ˆ© Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
No matter what changes in Winnipeg, some things still stay the same. Despite adding young talent, reinforcing the bottom-six, and swapping Pavelec for a highly-touted young goalie, the Jets have suffered through another season of leaky goaltending.
Only once in Jets 2.0 franchise history have they finished above average in even-strength save percentage. That’s impressive ineptitude, but it’s even more impressively consistent ineptitude. Even good goalies put in swiss cheese-level seasons occasionally, and bad goalies will play out of their minds: Brian Elliot has stopped just 89.6% of the shots he’s faced this season, while Peter Budaj has stopped 91.7%.
When the Jets sent Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL at the start of the season, they handed the reigns over to 23-year-old Connor Hellebuyck.
Hellebuyck is 23 years old, a former fifth round pick, and a resumé that shows he’s dominated at every level. From UMass-Lowell, to the Manitoba Moose, and to the World Championships — where he led Team USA to a bronze medal with a 94.8 save percentage — he’s excelled everywhere but the NHL.
But Hellebuyck hasn’t solved the Jets goaltending issue. He hasn’t been terrible — he’s put up a 91.0 save percentage — but he hasn’t been good enough, letting in over five goals more than an average goalie would in his place, per corsica.hockey. Hellebuyck hasn’t been good enough to run away with the starting job, leading the Jets to briefly turn back to Ondrej Pavelec before an injury.
That’s fine: the Jets aren’t making the playoffs this season (12% chance per hockeyviz.com), and Hellebuyck is young — it isn’t all that surprising that he has struggled in his first season as a number one goalie.
But Winnipeg needs to give Hellebuyck as much game time as possible. If the Jets are going to make the playoffs next year, if the Jets are going to become a competitive NHL team, they need to address their goaltending. It’s hard to make the playoffs with leaky goaltending; it’s even harder to win a playoff series without solid netminding.
The Jets have a chance to address their goaltending this summer, with Pavelec’s 3.9 million AAV deal coming off the books. If they’re confident that Connor Hellebuyck can be an above-average number one goalie, they will likely look for a dependable backup. If not, well, there are bigger-ticket options available too. There’s a reason Ben Bishop was mentioned in connection with the Jets earlier this season.
Bringing in an expensive veteran on a long-term deal would be overkill, but the Jets need to be decisive in improving their crease. They could bring in a mid-price starter like Steve Mason or Ryan Miller as a 1B; or they could bring in a veteran backup like Chad Johnson or Michael Neuvirth.
The way the Jets address their goaltending situation could be the biggest decision of their summer. Connor Hellebuyck has faced 1715 shots in his NHL career, and he’s stopped 91.3 percent of them. Will he become a legit starting goalie for the Jets? And if so, when?
Hellebuyck has succeeded at every level he’s played at — his odds still look good. The Jets need to get a better read on his talent level, help support his development, and decide how to improve their goaltending this summer. So for the rest of the season, Pavelec and Hutchinson should be stapled to the bench (back-to-backs excepted). The Jets need to play Connor Hellebuyck all the damn time.