Trimming the Fat: On Michael Hutchinson and sending down Ondrej Pavelec

The Winnipeg Jets have used Ondrej Pavelec in 252 games since the franchise moved to central Canada. In those games Pavelec has seen 7202 shots on goal and stopped 90.7 percent of them.

If someone were to ask me to quickly summarize the Winnipeg Jets’ chances of making the playoffs in 2017, it would not be too difficult: The Jets are a team that has the horses to make some noise, but it all depends on whether they actually choose the right ones.

The choice of sending down Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL was the right one, although there may be some misunderstanding on why that is. 

Ranking the Three

Many may feel the Jets just selected the two best goaltenders, but there is some evidence that may not be the case. There is a small, but real, chance Connor Hellebuyck ends up worse than Pavelec, as Hellebuyck has very little sample to make his numbers reliable. Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson could very well be a similar netminder to the Jets’ former starter.

Overall Performance

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LD, MD, and HD are the binning of three different levels of shots: low, medium, and high danger.

At the bare surface level, the Jets seemed to have kept the two best netminders. Pavelec has stopped only 90.71 per cent of the 7202 shots he has faced. Hutchinson and Hellebuyck, meanwhile, have stopped 91.22 and 91.80 percent of shots on goal faced.

Hellebuyck has been significantly better when facing high- and low-danger shots, while Hutchinson was the best in medium-danger shots. Interestingly, Hutchinson and Pavelec have been essentially the same in preventing high-danger shots from scoring.

Even Strength (5v5) Performance

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At even strength, specifically 5-on-5 situations, Hellebuyck stands out on top. The gap between Hutchinson and Pavelec significantly shrinks, and seems to be primarily driven by a difference in distributions of shots faced by each of the two goaltenders.

High danger shots generally correlate to goaltender skill and future success more-so than the other two. This might suggest that Pavelec is actually better than Hutchinson at 5v5 and the Jets performance defensively deflated Pavelec’s 5v5 save percentage relative to Hutchinson.

There are two counter-points to keep in mind though.

The line drawn between the three bins is predominately arbitrary. The gap in difficult between one specific high-danger shot relative to another can be larger than a particular high-danger shot and a medium-danger shot. In other words, the distribution of difficulty within high-danger shots could differ between goaltenders. (Which is why binning data is always less informative than superior methods like regression analysis)

The other issue comes with the sampling size, in that only three goals separates Hutchinson and Pavelec. It is easy to see that sampling issues, whether with the data quality or the natural variance that is goaltending performance, that the two may not differ in that region at all.

Penalty Kill (4v5) Performance

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Eric Tulsky previously showed that it requires approximately 100 games for performance in special teams to be significantly indicative of future success.

From that, we can essentially say that Hellebuyck’s 4v5 performance is not very telling of how he is likely to perform in the future, which makes sense when looking the wide variance in his performance between the three bins. Hutchinson though closely approaches 100 games, and also –with the heavy penalized Jets– is probably closer to a significant sample than his total number of games played would suggest.

We see here that Hutchinson not only performs better with aggregate save percentage, like with even strength, but also is the superior goaltender in all three bins.

While Pavelec’s 5v5 performance was about 3 goals better than Hutchinson’s, Hutchinson closes the gap with about a 2 goal better performance on the penalty kill (goal differences are given relative to the shots Hutchinson has experienced).

Why then Pavelec?

The Jets had three netminders. They had Pavelec, who is a known commodity, and not for performing well for a starter. They have Hutchinson, who has basically performed similar to Pavelec in the NHL depending on how you look at the numbers, but is younger and has less of a NHL sample. Finally, they have Hellebuyck, who has been the best thus far in the NHL, although the extremely small sample reduces the confidence that the performance will persist.

Well, there are quite a few possibilities and factors at play, and any of them could be true. It could even be a combination of the scenarios.

The Winnipeg Jets could feel it is finally time to move on past Pavelec. Pavelec had more than his fair share of chances over the past five combined seasons and ultimately failed to produce results suggesting the team should have any confidence on him.

While Hutchinson could just be another Pavelec, he still has the time to show he is something more. Hutchinson has only faced about nineteen hundred shots in the NHL, and the industry standard typically suggests about 3000 shot minimum for save percentage to settle with shot quality distributions mostly normalizing.

And, while Hutchinson could be no better than Pavelec, Hutchinson’s future contractual cost to the team is far lesser and there is still the chance that he could be the better netminder. Whether or not he will be requires time, and the Jets need to play Hutchinson and Hellebuyck if they are to determine who they truly are. 

In addition, the Jets are required to expose one netminder in the expansion draft. With Pavelec turning into a free agent for the 2017 summer, he is not an option. The Jets signed Hutchinson to a two-year contract specifically designed so Hutchinson can be exposed, protecting Hellebuyck from exposure. Both Pavelec and Hutchinson require to pass through waivers to be assigned to the AHL, but only Hutchinson risks the Jets’ Hellebuyck protection plan.

Goalies rarely are picked up through waivers, but it does happen; just ask Mike Condon.

Connor Hellebuyck has been elite in every level he’s played a significant sample in. He has nothing more to prove in the AHL where he’s put up stellar numbers and two All-Star performances. Hellebuyck is young, but at the age where most of the NHL’s best goaltenders have already started their NHL careers. It is time for the Jets to realize what they have in Hellebuyck in the NHL.

Michael Hutchinson was the superior AHL goaltender to Ondrej Pavelec, but in the NHL he’s been better in some areas and worse in others. Hutchinson may have performed similarly but still requires a bit more time to truly discover whether or not he is the superior option, even if only by a little. In addition, Hutchinson represents a more inexpensive back up in the future and also can be exposed in the NHL expansion draft, therefore protecting Hellebuyck.

While Hellebuyck is a fairly large unknown at the NHL level, his resume could not be any better in suggesting he is worth a shot. While Hutchinson could just be another Pavelec –NHL backup-level performance, Hutchinson has a bit more unknown to him, is younger and cheaper, and provides a way to protect their potential future starter in the expansion draft.

  • ktecACadaptor

    If all we ever get out of Hutch is backup level performance, at least we are getting it at a backup level budget.

    I tend to think that Hutch will, over time, settle to numbers a little better than his recent ones (though not quite where he was when he was being talked about for a last minute All Star call up). While I always challenge people who defend a player based on intangibles, I think that part of Hutchinson’s dip after his original hot streak may be a result of some shaken confidence. He is still pretty fresh at the NHL level, and you’ve gotta think that being an NHL goaltender at an elite level requires a pretty unique mental edge. He may or may not ever get that edge back, but at the very least, I believe that it’s conceivable.

    As a known-ish quantity with a low cap hit, I consider him over Pavelec as low-risk, moderate reward choice. Which is a pretty good one to take.

    Helly is more of a moderate risk, maximum reward situation, to me.

    All in all, what brings me the most hope is knowing that the organization finally made a decision to better utilize their current assets regardless of the fact that it means a little bit of egg on their face.