For the good and the bad, Jets fans are familiar with their team setting new milestones. They were the first team to sign a player for a million dollars when they brought Bobby Hull to the Manitoba capital. However, following the WHA and NHL merger they also earned the unfavourable distinction of going 30 games without recording a win. Luckily, during the 1992-93 season, the ‘Finnish Flash’ Teemu Selänne gave the fans a rookie-record that will likely never be broken when he tallied an absurd 76 goals and 56 points. Connor Hellebuyck has already made history when he became the first Jet to be awarded the Vezina trophy, but this upcoming shortened season gives him an opportunity to be the first back-to-back winner since Martin Brodeur in 2006-2008.
Notably, the Michigan native can etch his name in the repeat-winner record books alongside the likes of Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk. Hellebuyck stood on his head last year, and while it seems unfair to expect a repeat performance, this shortened season could be the perfect storm to give Jets fans something to cheer about even if they aren’t able to raise The Cup.
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The All-Canadian Division and shortened season means that there will be a lot of games jam-packed together. While this doesn’t usually bode well for a goalie, barring COVID complications, the Jets only have 9 back-to-back games the entire season. It will be interesting to see how Paul Maurice utilizes Laurent Brossoit during this run of games, but it could allow Hellebuyck to flourish. Their first back-to-back occurs January 18th and 19th when they travel to Ontario to take on the Leafs and the Senators. Considering how rough Ottawa has looked as of late, I would expect Maurice to play Hellebuyck against the Leafs and give Brossoit the nod for the Senators. They follow that up by hosting the Senators and the Oilers at home on the 23rd and 24th.
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Once again, barring injuries, it will be up to Maurice to hedge his bets against the lowly Sens and the high-powered Oilers. Hosting the Sens on the Hockey Night in Canada game could be a confidence boost game for Hellebuyck that also gives Brossoit the chance to exact some revenge against his former Alberta club. The Jets host the Calgary Flames on both February 1st and 2nd. Given the Flames’ offensive talent, this could be one of the few times we see Hellebuyck play both nights. Their next back-to-back ends a busy February when Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens come to Manitoba on the 27th. This will once again be the HNIC game and fingers-crossed, Maurice doesn’t deny the fans the chance to watch two former Vezina trophy winners face-off. I would expect Hellebuyck to get the start Saturday night, and Brossoit to be between-the-pipes Sunday night against Vancouver on the 28th.
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Once March rolls around, the Jets will play 16 games, with 12 of them being on the road. This means we will likely see Brossoit more than we have the previous 2 months. The only saving grace for this tough month is there is only 1 back-to-back when they travel to Cowtown to take on the Flames on the 26th and 27th. With his team boasting fresh legs, in all likelihood Maurice will start Hellebuyck on the Friday night with hopes that Brossoit can keep them in it on Saturday. Flash-forward to April and the Jets get to come home and play over half of their games at the Bell MTS Place. They host the Leafs on the 23rd and 24th for their sole back-to-back of the month. Depending on the standings, this could be an opportunity to play Hellebuyck in both home games and pad the incumbent Vezina winner’s stats. The regular season wraps up for the Jets against the Senators at home on May 7th and 8th for their final back-to-back of the season. This will once again depend on the standings, because this All-Canadian division will likely be one of the most tightly contested divisions so points will not be easy to come by.
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While the Vezina winner has never played less than 50 games since his 2015-16 rookie campaign, it’s safe to say he will likely hover around the 40-46 range this upcoming season. The Jets clearly wanted to upgrade their defence and, by adding the big Derek Forbort, will offer some much-needed size to clear sightlines for both Hellebuyck and Brossoit. Nathan Beaulieu will also look to deliver on his new 2-year signing and try to earn himself a top-4 spot. Whether that comes to fruition or not is difficult to predict, but to be blunt, after last season’s porous performances, the Jets defence can only go up. The combination of a shortened season, the emergence of Mikhail Berdin, and Lauren Brossoit playing for a contract should lighten the workload for Hellebuyck. The key to Hellebuyck’s back-to-back conquest will be consistency. He was a Vezina finalist in 2017-18, but followed that up with a lacklustre 2018-2019 season, before his dominant 2019-20 season. I predict he won’t disappoint and, bringing back-to-back Vezinas, will prove why the Jets awarded him a lucrative 6-year $37 million dollar contract. He also has the potential to be the hot goalie that the Jets ride to their first-ever Stanley Cup.