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The Crease Conundrum: Who Will Be The Jets Backup in 2018/19?

After the Jets traded Steve Mason this morning to the Montreal Canadiens to save cap space for the potential signing of Paul Stastny, the Jets now need to find a backup goalie to man the crease for the 20-25 games that Connor Hellebuyck will not play next season.  With no other goalies currently signed in the Jets organization, let’s look at a number of options that could be fits for the Jets.

Before I begin, credit to hockey-reference.com for the stats and figures.

Internal Options

First, let’s look at the numbers that the Jets backup goaltenders put up for Winnipeg in 2017-18.  Three other goalies started games for Winnipeg, Steve Mason, Michael Hutchinson (UFA), and Eric Comrie (RFA).  Between these three goalies, they started 18 games, posting a record of 8-9-1 with a 3.38 GAA and a .900 SV%.  Diving deeper, these goalies had a .903 SV% at even strength and an .892 SV% when shorthanded.

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Two more advanced stats that I will look at in this analysis are Quality Starts (QS) and Really Bad Starts (RBS).  These are both stats developed by Rob Vollman in the Hockey Abstract.  A quality start is a start where the goalie has a SV% > their season average SV%, or a SV% > .885 if the goalie faced less than 20 shots.  The league average QS% is approximately 53%.  A really bad start is a start where the goalie has a SV% < .850.

The Jets backup goalies in 2017-18 had 8 quality starts and 4 really bad starts out of their 18 overall starts.  This equates to a QS% of 44.4%, and a RBS% of 22.2%.

In an ideal situation, Comrie will start the season as the starting goaltender for the Moose, teaming up with rookie Mikhail Berdin.  With Mason being bought out, Mason and Hutchinson should not be overlooked as potential free agent options to fill the backup role, for the right price.  Matt Cane’s contract prediction model projects that Hutchinson will get a one-year contract with an AAV of $1.05 million.  This price would be perfect for the Jets, as they try to obtain a backup for the lowest possible price, so as to maximize the cap room that would be available to sign all the key RFAs.  Another intriguing option would be to “re-sign” Mason at a cap hit more suited to a number 2 goaltender, lowering the expectations heading into 2018-19.

External Free Agents

I will look at five potential free agent targets, including their stats over the last 3 seasons, as well as what Matt Cane projects their AAV to be on their next contract

The Numbers

Statistic Chad Johnson Anton Khudobin Kari Lehtonen Jaroslav Halak Robin Lehner
Age 32 32 34 33 27
Starts 105 50 121 111 129
W-L-OTL 50-47-8 26-15-8 62-49-12 50-48-15 42-61-22
SO 4 2 6 6 6
GAA 2.77 2.60 2.75 2.82 2.77
SV% .908 .910 .906 .913 .916
EV SV% .916 .912 .920 .918 .921
PK SV% .868 .905 .844 .889 .893
QS 53 24 66 57 69
QS% 50.5% 48.0% 54.5% 51.4% 53.5%
RBS 16 9 24 17 17
RBS% 15.2% 18.0% 19.8% 15.3% 13.2%

All stats from www.hockey-reference.com

Chad Johnson

Matt Cane Projection: 1 yr. @ $1,594,196

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Chad Johnson has spent last season as the backup to Robin Lehner in Buffalo, after signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract on July 1, 2017.  Since being traded to the Sabres in March 2015, Johnson’s numbers have steadily been in decline.  Last season, he had his worst season in the NHL, recording a 10-16-3 record in 29 starts, with a 3.55 GAA, and an .891 SV%.  His QS% was 41.4%, his lowest mark in the NHL since 2014-15 with the NY Islanders.  Among starters with at least 25 starts last season, only Thomas Greiss, Scott Darling, and Anders Nilsson had worse QS%.

Johnson’s underlying metrics indicate that he is a goalie in decline.  However, it may be worth the risk to the Jets to hope that he can have a bounce back season playing behind a much better defensive team in Winnipeg.

Anton Khudobin

Matt Cane Projection: 1 yr. @ $1,983,256

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Anton Khudobin has spent the last 2 seasons as the backup to Tuukka Rask in Boston, after signing a two-year, $2.4 million contract on July 1, 2016 ($1.2 million AAV).  In his 2 seasons in Boston, he has posted a 23-12-8 record in 43 starts, with a 2.59 GAA, and a .910 SV%.  He has never been a full-time starter in the NHL but has proved at multiple stops to be a capable backup, who can provide competition to some pretty capable incumbents (Cam Ward in Carolina and Rask in Boston).

Khudobin has been a fairly consistent goalie in terms of pure metrics since his final year in Carolina in 2014-15.  He has never played more than 36 games in a season, so the only concern would be using him in a more regular role if Hellebuyck falters during the season.  The problem may end up being that coming off of a much better season in Boston last year, Khudobin may price himself out of the Jets range.

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Kari Lehtonen

Matt Cane Projection: 2 yrs. @ $3,371,676

The 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft to the Atlanta Thrashers, Lehtonen was traded to Dallas at the 2010 Trade Deadline for Ivan Vishnevskiy and the draft pick that was used to select Ivan Telegin.  Lehtonen is coming off of a 5-year, $29,500,000 contract ($5.9 million AAV), but his final year in Dallas was statistically his best since leading the Stars to the playoffs in 2013-14.  In 37 appearances, Lehtonen posted a 15-14-3 record, with a 2.56 GAA and a .912 SV%.  His QS% of 63.3% last season was better than 2 of the 3 Vezina finalists (Hellebuyck at 60.9%, Vasilevskiy at 56.3%), but he has the highest RBS% of the 5 free agent goalies on this list at 19.8%.

Of the goalies on this list, Lehtonen is the most familiar with the Central Division, having spent the last 6 seasons in Dallas.  Kevin Cheveldayoff is familiar with Lehtonen from their time together with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL.  Similar to Chad Johnson, Lehtonen could get a boost from playing in front of a better defensive unit in Winnipeg than he did in Dallas last season.  The only question would be whether Lehtonen would be willing to take the paycut that would be required to make it work from a Jets perspective, and if he is willing to play the role of clear-cut number two goalie going into 2018-19.

Jaroslav Halak

Matt Cane Projection: 1 yr. @ $3,270,829

The hero of the 2010 NHL playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens, Halak is coming off of a 4-year, $18,000,000 ($4.5 million AAV) with the New York Islanders that he signed in the summer of 2014.  Halak had his worst season of the 4 years on Long Island and in Brooklyn this past year, recording a 20-26-6 record in 54 appearances, with a 3.19 GAA and a .908 SV%.  Of goalies that made at least 30 appearances in the NHL last season, only Mike Condon, Craig Anderson, and Chad Johnson had worse GAAs than Halak last year.  His 44.9% QS% was the worst of his career, and his only full season under 50% in his NHL career.  He has plenty of NHL experience, only 3 years removed from posting 38 wins with the Islanders and leading them to the playoffs in 2014-15.

The metrics suggest that last season was the exception and not the rule for the 33-year-old Czech netminder.  His significant experience both as a starter and backup would be a great asset for the Jets to have, and a move away from the disastrous defense with the Islanders would do Halak wonders for the 2018-19 season.  It sounds like the Jets have some competition to sign Halak though, so he may be priced out of the Jets range.

Robin Lehner

Matt Cane Projection: 2 yrs. @ $3,640,366

A former 2nd round pick with the Ottawa Senators, Robin Lehner has had a rough go since being traded to Buffalo before the 2015-16 season.  However, Lehner has had some great metrics over his time in Buffalo (if you ignore record, which has been a sore spot due to how bad the Sabres have been).  In his 3 years, he has posted a 2.77 GAA and a .916 SV%, which are both respectable numbers.  His QS% during his time in Buffalo has been 55.6%, meaning that more often than not, he has put together a good outing, and been let down by the team in front of him not scoring enough.  2017-18 saw a reversion to how his time in Ottawa ended, recording a GAA above 3.00 for the first time since 2014-15 (his last season as the backup in Ottawa).

Lehner is a textbook buy-low candidate.  He is coming off a $4,000,000 million contract that he signed last summer as an RFA.  He will certainly not be paid that highly, but if you are the Jets, you could try to sign him closer to $2,000,000, and hope that he provides insurance if Hellebuyck takes a step back in 2018-19.  However, I don’t think that Lehner would like to sign somewhere he would not have the opportunity to at least compete for the number 1 job in 2018-19, which would likely rule out Lehner coming to Winnipeg.

Trade Candidates

Aaron Dell

San Jose, similar to Winnipeg is facing a cap crunch moving forward.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s $7,000,000 per season extension kicks in on July 1st, and Logan Couture has reportedly signed an 8-year, $64,000,000 extension that will kick in at the end of next season.  Add in the signing of Evander Kane, and the Sharks may look to try and save money wherever possible.  With Martin Jones locked up as the bonafide number 1 starter in San Jose, Aaron Dell’s $1.9 million cap hit for the next two seasons may be able to be targeted in a trade.  Over his 2 seasons in San Jose, Dell has recorded a 26-11-5 record as Jones’ backup, with a 2.37 GAA and a .920 SV%.  The cost may be a fairly high draft pick, perhaps as high as a 2nd round pick, but Dell would certainly provide insurance behind Hellebuyck moving forward, and would allow Eric Comrie to spend the next 2 seasons developing before being pushed into the NHL.

Calvin Pickard

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported last week that teams have been calling the Maple Leafs about Calvin Pickard, who spent last season with the Toronto Marlies.  Pickard signed a 1-year contract for $800,000 on June 20th, but with Frederik Andersen as the starter for the foreseeable future, it makes sense for teams to try and pry Pickard away from the Leafs.  Pickard was selected from Colorado by Vegas in the Expansion Draft last season, and then was traded to the Leafs early in the year.  In his 3 seasons in Colorado, he recorded a .914 SV% and a 2.77 GAA, both of which would be serviceable numbers in a backup role with the Jets.  The Leafs, like the Jets, are facing a cap crunch down the road, and so a trade for Pickard would not require the Jets to give up any roster pieces, as the Leafs cannot afford to take on extra salary.


What do you think Jets fans?  Who would you like to see as the back-up in 2018-19?  Is it possible that the Jets rely on a Hellebuyck/Comrie tandem, which only 3 seasons ago was the starting tandem in the AHL?  Let me know what you think in the comments section!


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