If you’ve been a fan of the Winnipeg Jets for almost any length of time, you’ve heard this before: the Winnipeg Jets would have made the playoffs last year if they’d had even average goaltending.
It’s a line that’s been true of the Jets more than once. This year the numbers indicated the Jets had no trouble putting the puck in the net but were among the league’s worst teams at keeping it out. And while the defense was hit by a rash of injuries that nearly crippled it, the team’s goaltenders fell well short of the league averages in both save percentage and GAA.
So with that in mind, knowing that with even average goaltending the Jets make the playoffs, July 1 is an excellent opportunity for the Jets to get out there and get some average goaltending!
Wow, that was uninspiring.
I kid, but if you’re expecting the Jets to find a brilliant goaltender in free agency, well, it’s not impossible but disappointment likely awaits you.
If, however, you believe the Jets can find a competent goaltender, someone to ease the load on Connor Hellebuyck until Eric Comrie is ready to come in full-time, then this year’s crop of free agent goaltenders might just have what you, and the Jets, are looking for.
Mason is seen by some as the most viable option for the Jets. He’s not coming off his strongest ever season, but his 2.66 GAA and his .908 save percentage would have led the Jets last year. And his numbers since coming to Philadelphia have been exemplary. He’s 29 years old, and while his best years may be behind him, they may still be ahead as well. Even if they are, there’s some good, competent goaltending left in him.
Mason’s numbers have been good despite last year’s hiccup, and they came behind a defense that, on paper at least, doesn’t match the Jets when they’re healthy. He could be exactly the man they’re looking for, assuming he leaves Philadelphia.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall says pending free-agent goalie Steve Mason is still in the mix to return
Mason's agent plans to call Hextall Monday pic.twitter.com/wLP8ApxtUD
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) June 25, 2017
On the other hand, he could also be exactly the man several other teams are looking for, and while I believe the Jets will push hard for him, he’ll have other suitors. If he should choose one of them, the Jets will have to look elsewhere. With that in mind, I’ve listed other options, but I believe Mason to be the best of them.
Like many goalies available this offseason, Elliott has had a few down years in his career, including arguably his most recent one, but he’s still been fairly consistent.
Elliott would personify the idea of a steady veteran hand behind Hellebuyck. He’s 32 years old and has been in the NHL since 2008. His most recent year he posted a .910 save percentage, again, not fantastic but better than the Jets got, and the year before that he posted a percentage of .930.
Now, granted, that was behind the stingy defense of the St. Louis Blues, who finished third in the league that year and tied for fourth in goals against, but that’s still a tremendous number. Imagine for a moment what the Jets could do with a goalie putting up that kind of numbers. Apparently, the Jets have been imagining it too.
For what it's worth, one NHL GM said this week he believes the #NHLJets will sign 32-year-old UFA goaltender Brian Elliott.
— Ted Wyman (@Ted_Wyman) June 25, 2017
Elliott’s age may make him less attractive than Mason for some, but bear in mind that whoever the Jets sign is not, in their mind at least, a long-term solution. A couple of years of Elliott helping to bring Hellebuyck and Comrie along could work wonders.
Whether you like this selection or not depends on whether you believe the Jets will get the Jonathan Bernier of 2014, who finished with a strong .923 save percentage despite playing on a horrid Leafs squad, or the 2016 year model who finished with a .908 mark on an even worse team.
Most likely the answer lies somewhere in between the two. Bernier had a nice bounceback in Anaheim, putting up a .915 save percentage, a 2.50 GAA, and an astonishing .750 win percentage (he went 21-7-4). No one will confuse the Jets with the Ducks anytime soon, but those numbers suggest Bernier is far from done as a starter at the NHL level.
And those who aren’t fond of Elliott’s age will like Bernier all the better. At age 28, he’s the youngest goalie we’ve looked at so far.
Those are the three goalies I believe most likely to be on the Jets radar come July 1. Time will tell if any of them are pulling a Jets sweater over their heads by next season.
If you think I’ve missed any good ones, leave a comment below. Or drop Kevin Cheveldayoff a line. When July 1 rolls around, he’s going to want as many options as he can get.