The Winnipeg Jets recently signed Connor Hellebuyck to a massive six year deal worth $37 million dollars which puts him into the top six earners among all goaltenders.
This is a bold move for the organization who have struggled to find consistent goaltending since their move to Winnipeg. Looking at the past, the Jets have only committed to a goalie for an extended term once and it’s fair to say that it didn’t work out. Obviously that goalie was Ondrej Pavelec who signed a five year extension worth nearly $20 million back in 2012.
Given the stats that Pavelec produced, it’s understandable that Jets fans are wary of signing another goalie long term. The point is not to equate Hellebuyck and Pavelec at all, rather it is to question a long term deal for hockey’s toughest position to analyze. So is Hellebuyck’s contract a good signing by Cheveldayoff? Well, it depends who you ask…
Goalies are Voodoo
There is a common phrase in regards to the NHL’s most important position. “Goalie’s are voodoo.” Well, what does that even mean? Essentially it means that goalies are the toughest position to analyze and predict future performance.
This inconsistency is proven every single season when a goalie who is supposed to be taking steps forward suddenly stumbles and is unable to replicate previous success. For Jets fans, look no further than Steve Mason. Mason was brought in after posting three straight seasons with a SV% above .916. Last season with the Jets he managed an abysmal .906 and struggled repeatedly throughout the year as he battled injuries.
Some may argue that because Mason switched teams, it isn’t fair to expect the same results. While that may be true, this trend also emerges even among the league’s elite goalies who stay with the same teams. Carey Price had four seasons in a row where he had a SV% of at least .923, then last season he ended the year with a SV% of .900, the worst of his career.
The point to be made is that just because a goalie makes a lot of money or has performed well in the past doesn’t mean he is going to perform well in the future. Although this is the case with forwards and defensemen too, goals and assists are more consistent and repeatable than save percentage is. The argument isn’t whether Hellebuyck is making too much, it’s whether or not any goalie should be paid so much given how much fluctuation there is in the numbers.
If I told you how much an NHL goaltender made, you would know very little about how well he stopped shots.
Quite the challenge for front offices around the league. https://t.co/N9n8WiiQ7C
— Travis Yost (@travisyost) July 12, 2018
Does this mean Hellebuyck’s contract was a bad move for Cheveldayoff? Certainly not, as most of the highest paid goalies are routinely in the running for the Vezina trophy and tend to be more consistent year over year. However, this does mean Hellebuyck will most likely have one or two bad seasons over the next six years. It’s unfair to expect every year to be great given the nature of the position and how fluctuating the numbers can be.
Great Deal for a Great Goalie
While the naysayers look at Hellebuyck’s history with the team and point out that there has only been one good season, the others point towards Hellebuyck’s track record throughout his entire career. Hellebuyck has had a wonderful path of progression and has worked his way up through every level of hockey. His statistics have also been excellent at each level and the performances have been very consistent.
I understand where the “it’s only been one year” crowd is coming from and there are no guarantees with goalies, but dig a little deeper. His only below-average save % year since leaving the Odessa Jackalopes of the NAHL was his first full season as #NHLJets starter.
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) July 12, 2018
One of the reasons Hellebuyck has been so consistent throughout his career is his style of play. His game has long been labelled as big and boring as he uses his size and good positioning to make his job look easy. This doesn’t mean that Hellebuyck isn’t athletic, he just doesn’t rely on his athleticism as much as other goalies do. This bodes well for the future as his play will most likely stay more consistent as he gets older or when he battles through injuries.
Everything about Hellebuyck’s game sounds great, but the best part of this deal might be the dollar value. Hellebuyck was nominated for the Vezina trophy, which would imply that he was one of the three best goalies this past year. This would also imply Hellebuyck should earn one of the top three salaries if he is actually a top three netminder in the NHL. If Hellebuyck is able to stay near the top, even in the top five, this contract will have solid value because he is only the sixth highest paid goalie.
Here are Hellebuyck's peers with cap hit % at the time their new deal started. His is the 2nd lowest, behind Andersen's who was the same age and had similar career numbers at that point, hence the above comparison. If CH ends up being Andersen, it's fine. If he's better? Great! pic.twitter.com/QJGQRdHqk4
— Colin Beswick (@CBeswick) July 12, 2018
Speaking about value, according to the above graph, Hellebuyck isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of Cap % when signing his deal. Once again, this means that Hellebuyck’s contract could turn out to have a lot more value than some of the other premier goalies across the league. This deal leaves plenty of money for other players and will help control the costs down the road as the Jets continue to contend each year.
Although some would argue that it’s not worth paying any goalie that much because cheap goalies can also perform well, the cost is not outrageous given the current market for goalies. Other teams might be able to capitalize on these market inefficiencies but the current market dictates this is a very fair deal for both sides.
What does this mean for the Jets going forward?
This signing means different things to different people within the organization. First of all, this shows the Jets are committed to Hellebuyck and truly believe he can lead them to a championship. The Jets will most likely be contenders for all six years of the deal which means they have put their trust in Hellebuyck’s abilities.
For Eric Comrie this deal means he will have to get ready for backup duty. Comrie could play for the Moose for another season or two but will look to challenge for the backup role during training camp. Regardless of the battle between Comrie and Brossoit, neither have any chance of dethroning Hellebuyck in the near future. This means Comrie will have to be content with the backup role for the next six years or else he would need to request a trade to a team that is looking to take a chance.
I think this a great deal for both parties as Hellebuyck gets a long term deal and great job security for the next several years. The Jets get a young goalie who was nominated for the Vezina and appears to still have his best days ahead. Although goalies’ numbers can greatly fluctuate year over year, Hellebuyck’s style of play and history of excellence easily turns this contract into a great deal that has plenty of value given average annual value.