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Photo Credit: © Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Goalie Woes: What’s Next in the Jets Crease?

Alright everyone, take a seat. Yes, that means you, reader. Screw the fourth wall, I’m talking directly to you. Today we’re going to talk about something you have potentially heard before. The Jets’ goaltending, and the general iffy nature of it all. Yes, iffy is a technical term, don’t worry about it. Okay, now let’s get to the facts. Goaltending is important, very important.

Even with an incredible defense, a goalie needs to be good. The ability to steal games separates the good goalies from the “meh, they’ll do” goalies. Obviously, all goalies can’t be Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, or Officer Sergei Bobrovsky, but to take the next step, a team needs a solid guy between the pipes.

Frankly, I just don’t think the Jets’ goaltending is good. There I said it.

Yeah, Hellebuyck can be good. He showed signs that he can be a capable starter, and he’s definitely a guy who could be a great goalie down the line in his career, but he’s only 24. Most goalies don’t truly hit their stride until the age of 25-30 (some have done it before, but most don’t establish themselves until mid to late 20’s). Michael Hutchinson showed he could play pretty well during parts of his first two stretches with the Jets, but his 2016-17 season was downright disastrous. Let’s line it up statistically for you:

Connor Hellebuyck: Connor played 56 games for the Jets during the 2016-17 season, and sported a respectable 26-19-4 record. However, I always find records can be somewhat misleading, considering you could give up 4 or 5 goals a night, but your team could score 6. The Jets had one of the best offensive teams in the league, scoring 246 goals, and sporting a 3.00 GF/GP. Pretty fantastic offensive showing, which leads to finger pointing. Is it the goaltending? Is it the defense? Coaching? Nobody can really say for sure, even though everyone has their opinions.

Now back to Hellebuyck. He finished the year with a 2.89 GAA and a .907 Sv%. Both of which are below league averages (2.59 GAA, .913 Sv%). I studied his play throughout his first full NHL campaign (Finally! I can use this in an article!), and I noticed something very consistent with him. His inconsistency. Consistently inconsistent. I always use that as a joke, but I’m serious here. Hellebuyck would go out there for a game, play like a goaltending god, have a 45 save shutout, and singlehandedly win the game. Everyone would cheer, and think to themselves “hey, this kid really has some great stuff”. However, the next two games would usually be disastrous. He was pulled a lot this year, and that just won’t do. I refuse to call Hellebuyck a bad goaltender, because I know he has the potential to be a star, but as of right now, mediocrity shouldn’t be acceptable.

Michael Hutchinson: Hutch played 28 games last season, but had many relief appearances due to Hellebuyck being pulled. Hutch posted a 9-12-3 record, with a 2.92 GAA and a .903 Sv%. Kind of rough if you ask me. Hutchinson can function as a backup with minimal time, but (I’m going to say it again) inconsistency really hurt him. Both him and Hellebuyck let in a fair share of soft goals, which is obviously costly when a team expects you to make those saves. Hell, even teammates called out the goaltending from last season.

Bottom line, Hutch also needs to be held accountable.

The Jets do have a defense full of potential, however, there is the occasional slip up, struggle, or injury. So, there are improvements to be made in that respect. Goaltending, however, is the final line of defense and needs to be far more reliable.

So How Do They Fix It?

Now, to the fun part. If the Jets management team does venture out and say “Hey, so we should really address the goaltending, right?”, who do they target? Well, I’ll throw some half decent scenarios and opinions at you, and hope you agree with me. I personally believe that the following goalies fit well with the Jets:

Antti Raanta: This list really isn’t in any particular order, however, I really like him as a player. Many are comparing him to Cam Talbot. Not because of play style or anything, but instead due to how he spent time behind Lundqvist. Raanta went 16-8-2 last season, with a 2.26 GAA and .922 Sv%. He’s been in a backup role his entire career with both the Blackhawks and the Rangers, but I think he’s ready to step up. Plus, he’s a complete upgrade over Hutchinson.

Brian Elliott: Elliott is a veteran presence who could take a young guy like Hellebuyck under his wing. Oh yeah, he can also play goal too. That is a task he can complete, but in all honesty, I think a guy like Elliott could work out for the Jets. Aside from a hiccup to start last season in Calgary, he’s been a relatively consistent goalie his entire career. Once again, he would be an upgrade over Hutch, and could actually come in as an established NHL goalie and snag that #1 spot. I do think it’s possible to bring him to Winnipeg, at a somewhat cheap price point, and a reasonable term.

Steve Mason: The former Calder Trophy winner is on the way out of Philly, and on his way to unrestricted free agency. So, what can he do for the Jets? Well, to start, he can post solid numbers like he did a couple years back. Even his numbers from last year match-up well with our goalies (26-21-8, 2,66 GAA, .908 Sv%), and he’d most likely have a better defensive core in front of him. He could be available via trade or free agency this summer, and the Jets could capitalize on a goalie who is still under the age of 30.

Jaroslav Halak: I put Halak on here because he’s a veteran, and he has proven that he can play well. However, last season didn’t start well for the 32 year-old Slovakian, and that landed him in the minors (where he posted stellar numbers, I might add). In a season where he’s looking to rebound (pun intended), he could join a team like Winnipeg, who would be able to give him the shot he needs to prove he’s still a competent goaltender. Don’t get me wrong, that $4.5 Million cap hit isn’t the prettiest contract on the financial books, but it is only for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. Halak finished the year with the Isles with a 12-9-5 record, a 2.80 GAA, and a .915 Sv%, which leaves some performance to be desired, but he did post a 17-7-1 record in Bridgeport for the AHL’s Sound Tigers last season, with a 2.15 GAA and a .925 Sv%. He’s one of the biggest risks on this list, but the reward could be nice.

One of the Red Wings: Both Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard are looked at as “available” due to young goaltender Jared Coreau’s success at the AHL level, but which one works best. While Howard is who the Wings will protect at the expansion draft, and Mrazek would be unprotected, I still think Detroit is saying to themselves; “if we need to, we’ll part with good ol’ Jimmy”. Howard, another veteran, is a rather solid goalie throughout his career stats wise. Last season was split up and spent on IR for Howard, but in his playing time, he put up solid numbers. 10-11-1, with a 2.10 GAA and a .927 Sv%. If Howard could stay healthy, he’d be a valuable addition to the Jets, as long as they don’t make it to a shootout, where Howard struggles. Mightily. Mrazek, on the other hand, seems to be the source of some attitude issues in Detroit, so they feel the need to test the market for him. While solid, he seems to be a source of inconsistency, and that attitude needs to be checked at the door.

Not Marc-Andre Fleury: Okay, I know this seems rather dismissive, and we don’t know for sure how available Fleury would be from Vegas, or if he would even consider coming to Winnipeg. However, I’m almost certain that Vegas will keep MAF, and even if they didn’t, I’m not sure we would be on his 18 team list of teams he would go to. Listen, I would absolutely love it if the Jets could snag Fleury, but I just don’t see it happening, and we, as a fan base, should prepare for that. However, this is one where I’m sure everyone would be okay with if it somehow happens. I would be okay with being wrong on this one.

I sit here wondering, will we address this issue in the offseason? Well, my fantasy hockey loving, analytical brain thinks we should, but obviously it isn’t my call. It’s a wait and see point in the season, and especially so due to the expansion draft looming. So, Jets fans, let’s wait and see.

  • Travis

    What about one of the Sabres? Lehner is a UFA and Nilsson is an RFA (with arbitration) this year, and both posted good numbers (0.920 and 0.923) backing a mediocre team. Both will want raises, and while Buffalo has the cap space, I’m not sure they’ll want to park that much money in two goaltenders when one will do.

    • LAKID

      Nilsson pushed Talbot and was the better goalie in first half of season in 2015-16. I have time for Nilsson as a backup but Jets still need a starter. Jets will need a grade A goalie as the defense will be lacking when Trouba is gone.