The Winnipeg Jets Goaltending Situation

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during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 13, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.

The re-call of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec this week has without a doubt been the talk of the town in Winnipeg. In a seemingly desperate move, the Winnipeg Jets are now seeking assistance from a player they deemed unfit for NHL playing time just a few months ago. While goaltending has been a team issue, it’s highly improbable that Pavelec will resemble anything even close to a savior figure. The Jets will need to do a lot more than re-calling a sub-par goaltender if they wish to stop what ails them.

Goaltending Struggles

TSN’s Gary Lawless told viewers yesterday that Michael Hutchinson has been inferior to Pavelec at both Pavelec’s best and his worst. This happens to be false. Hutchinson’s even strength save percentage of .906 this season surpasses a 59-game stretch of Pavelec’s career where he registered an inadequate .903.

Pavelec at his worst has in fact been inferior to Hutchinson’s 2016-17 campaign. Hutchinson however, is playing worse than Pavelec does on average.

Was the initial move to roll with Hutchinson as Connor Hellebuyck‘s backup this season the right call? In foresight, it 100% was. Hutchinson has better career numbers than Pavelec, as well as a higher upside at his age. Probability supported the move, and more often than not, using probability to your advantage will serve you well. In hindsight, would Pavelec have done better than Hutchinson this year? While we can’t be certain on the unfolding of a non-existent occurrence, it is safe to assume he would have.

If Pavelec’s re-call is a move to replace Hutchinson as the number two in Winnipeg’s goalie rotation, it’s all right. If the move is anything more, it can be problematic. Hellebuyck starting as often as possible is the Jets optimal scenario. Playing time is pivotal for the 23-year old’s development.

Is Goaltending “The” Issue?

Lawless’ latest column was titled “Goaltending is the real issue in Winnipeg“. Substandard play between the pipes most certainly has been a setback with this seasons Jets. But has it really been the end all be all problem?

Absolutely not.

For starters, the Jets are having their worst shot generation season to date. They currently rank 25th in CF60 (shots taken per 60 minutes). Their previous low in CF60 was the 2015-16 season where they finished 13th. As you can imagine, more teams finish with a lottery pick than a playoff berth when finishing 25th or lower in this category. Winnipeg is having an unusually tough time getting the puck out of the neutral zone to create offense. Hellebuyck and Hutchinson have nothing to do with this.

An anemic penalty kill topped with 189 minor penalty minutes hasn’t been all that kind to the Jets either. Since so much of penalty killing has to do with systems, it would be foolish to solely lay the blame on a goaltender when efficiency is low. Hellebuyck had average even strength numbers before the shellackings Montreal and Arizona laid on him. His all purpose save percentage gets its massive decrease with the amount of goals the Jets allow shorthanded. To be exact, 28 powerplay goals have been scored on them over the past 29 games. That’s nearly a shorthanded goal per game!

Lawless’ article went as far as saying that a good goaltender is the missing ace in Winnipeg’s royal flush. This isn’t the greatest poker analogy when you consider that the team has several other glaring weaknesses. A good goalie might be the ace to complete a low straight for the Jets at best. While it certainly would help them, it wouldn’t turn them into contenders either.

Perhaps Gary should change the title of his article to “Goaltending is a real issue in Winnipeg”, rather than “the issue”.

Wade Flaherty

Jets goalies have consistently performed below expectation under goalie coach Wade Flaherty. Both Hellebuyck and Hutchinson have been playing significantly deeper in net compared to their first handful of NHL appearances. The change in positioning has been followed by a decrease in both of their initial save percentages. This is starting to look like more of correlation than coincidence.

You don’t have to put the onus entirely on Flaherty, but his positive impact on goaltender development has not exceeded zero. His inexperience and empty track record as a pro coach has been more of a nuisance to his team’s young netminders than it has been a benefit.

Many are calling for Rick St. Croix to step in as his replacement. He is an accomplished mentor as noted in Last Word on Hockey’s Jets edition of New Year’s Resolutions. He would serve as an upgrade over Wade at the very least.

Netminders Moving Forward

Hellebuyck staying with the big club is a given. Now that he’s reached 60 games played, he would require waivers if sent down. The same applies to Hutchinson, though his future is far more uncertain.

Since the NHL has eliminated re-entry waivers under the new CBA, Pavelec won’t require waivers unless he plays in 10 games, or stays up for 30 days. Coach Paul Maurice stated that if the Jets liked Pavelec’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, they’d throw him back in.

Pavelec was neither spectacular or horrible in his debut against the Coyotes. He stopped 30 of 33; good for a save percentage of .909. Many are infatuated by the fact that Pavelec recorded a win for the Jets. It’s important to remember that wins are a team stat and not a goalie stat. The Jets scored six goals for crying out loud. Most netminders would go undefeated if their team scored six every night. What the Jets got out of Pavelec was an average game from a backup caliber goaltender.

The Jets appear to be rolling with three goalies short term, though it’s safe to assume one of Pavelec or Hutchinson will be gone within 30 days. It’s impossible to predict who it will be at this point, as future performance is likely to be the determining factor.

Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

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