Ondrej Pavelec and the possibility of the Winnipeg Jets buying him out

Marianne Helm

Ondrej Pavelec is no longer the Winnipeg Jets' goaltender of the future and his presence along with his contract situation is handcuffing the team.

Ondrej Pavelec is a sub par NHL starter. The numbers suggest he is among the league's worst starters and in fact worse than many backups. His play has been visibly bad for three years now. His positioning is awful. He slides beyond his posts more than any other goalie I've seen. He loses a lot pucks in traffic. He struggles to control rebounds. His contract his horrible. But hey, he is one heck of an athlete (or something). #upside

All that said, this isn't another piece about Ondrej Pavelec's play. As far as I am concerned, that discussion is over. Two years ago the numbers said Ondrej Pavelec was unlikely to improve. In the two subsequent seasons, Ondrej has done nothing to disprove that theory. As far as I'm concerned the Battle of Ondrej is done. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not going to be able to help you.

Now that that battle is over, the new discussion becomes "What happens next?" This article will outline what has to be done for this team to move forward and fix their goaltending situation. It will also outline the perils of standing pat.

The Winnipeg Jets really only have two options:

Buy out Ondrej Pavelec or don't buy out Ondrej Pavelec

Let's take a look at the financial implications of a buy out:

Retain Ondrej Compliance Buy-Out Ondrej
Year Real Dollars Cap Hit Real Dollars Cap Hit
2014-15 $    3,750,000.00 $  3,900,000.00 $1,416,667 $                 -
2015-16 $    4,250,000.00 $  3,900,000.00 $1,416,667 $                 -
2016-17 $    4,750,000.00 $  3,900,000.00 $1,416,667 $                 -
2017-18 - - $1,416,667 $                 -
2018-19 - - $1,416,667 $                 -
2019-20 - - $1,416,667 $                 -
Total Dollars $  12,750,000.00 - $8,500,000 -

NOTES:

A buyout and the salary cap: Compliance Buyouts are one of the few gifts that were provided by the NHL's most recent lockout. Each team is allowed two and the Winnipeg Jets have yet to use one. Buyouts have always been an option, but they generally carry salary cap implications. If the Jets buy out Ondrej this summer they can avoid any such cap issues.

A buyout and real dollars: Buying out Ondrej will cost the Winnipeg Jets $8.5 million. Keeping him will cost the team $12.75 million. If you believe Ondrej Pavelec is what he is (he is), it will be wasted money one way or another - so a buyout offers $4.25 million dollars in savings. Of course buying out Ondrej means he has to be replaced, so much of that savings will be put to uses. Real dollar savings will be negligible.

Why buy out Ondrej if there aren't real dollars to be saved?

The biggest reason the Winnipeg Jets need to buyout Ondrej Pavelec has to do with opportunity cost. Over the last two seasons, the team's marriage to Ondrej has prevented them from looking for other viable solutions to their goaltending woes.

Ondrej Pavelec has never been a good NHL goalie and even before he signed his current 5 year contract he was unlikely to improve. Whether or not the poor play is a surprise, the team can't continue to repeat the error.

Before Ondrej signed

When word broke that Allan Walsh and Ondrej Pavelec were looking for four million dollars a year, most of AIH's reader group broke out in laughter. They thought it was a joke. Somewhat unproven goaltenders of similar age and ilk were signing for a fraction of that.

Name Contract Length Cap Hit
Semyon Varlamov 3 years $        2,833,333
Steve Mason 2 years $        2,900,000
Devan Dubnyk 2 years $        3,500,000
Tuuka Rask 1 yea $        3,500,000

These deals all carry a relatively small cap hit, but more importantly the term was short.

Why? Because young goalies are a crap shoot, even the ones that post solid numbers. Betting on one who has never posted above average save percentage in the AHL or the NHL is frankly unwise, but here we are.

Even before Ondrej Pavelec signed his current deal, many suggested letting him walk was the way to go. And while obvious replacements weren't abundant, the numbers pointed to a few goalies who have done nothing but turn heads over the last couple season's. Benjamin Wendorf of AIH and Hockey Graphs suggested the Jets make a play for Sergei Bobrovsky (then a Philadelphia Flyer). Another (me) suggested the Jets attempt to trade for Ben Scrivens. Why? Because save percentage is a better predictor of future save percentage than any other measure (and it routinely outperforms NHL GMs). Odds favored them posting solid numbers in the future. The opposite was true about Ondrej.

That is the sad part of this whole mess. This outcome was so predictable, so if you sense any frustration - that is the source. Of course, we all know what happened. Ondrej Pavelec was signed to a five year deal with a $3.9MM cap hit. He proceed to disappoint by posting a .905 save percentage in his first season on his new deal.

Fast forward to last off-season

Ondrej's Pavelec had completed the first year of his new deal. His numbers remained poor. They actually got slightly worse than he already poor career average. Odds were they would continue to be poor, but the ink on Ondrej's new deal had barely dried and he had four contract years remaining. The Jets were handcuffed, they couldn't turn the page.

The numbers said get rid of Ondrej Pavelec and add somebody like Thomas Greiss or Anton Khudobin. Those two names were suggested repeatedly as players that could be / likely would be an upgrade over Ondrej in the Jets' net.

  • Greiss signed a one year deal worth $750,000. He has posted a .932 save percentage across 14 games played.
  • Kudobin signed a one year deal worth $800,000. He has posted a .927 save percentage across 17 games played.

Is either goalie likely to sustain those numbers? No, but odds favor them being at least average NHL goaltenders which would make both better than Ondrej. It was true before the season and remains true now. Infact the odds that both players are better than Ondrej has increased.

Both players will likely be getting large raises this off season.

Another goalie who will likely get a large raise? Ben Scrivens. Another goalie who was likely to out-perform Ondrej and was available.

  • Scrivens has posted a .935 in 24 games played across two teams.

Winnipeg Jets could have looked to move past Ondrej Pavelec (they probably should have) and other options were available, but again they stood pat... and they were among the only teams with sub par goaltending that stand pat.

The following teams had a worse save percentage than the Jets a season ago:

Five of these six team tried to fix their goaltending situation, unfortunately the Jets were handcuffed by the newly minted Ondrej Pavelec deal and unable to make a move.

Here we are again

The odds were Ondrej Pavelec would continue to post poor numbers. He has. With each passing season of poor play, the likelihood of Ondrej improving falls from "slim" to "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That's cute." A change needs to be made for the Winnipeg Jets to move forward.

Why buyout Ondrej Pavelec? Because to put it bluntly - he is a waste of a roster spot. He is a poor NHL goalie and odds are he will always be a poor NHL goalie. Could he be kept around as a backup? Sure, but backups are a dime a dozen. The Jets picked up Al Montoya on a one year $601,000 deal. He is outplaying Ondrej Pavelec and odds are he will continue to do so. Players like Khudobin, Greiss and Scrivens will likely hit the market this year and they should be available on the cheap - relatively speaking. All are likely to outperform Pavelec.

Of course any such signing would not carry a guarantee. There is a chance that the Jets could sign one of these goalies and they would flop, but that is why the buyout has to happen. Going into next year with two goalies that have a chance of being good is better than one or none and really. Posting worse numbers than Ondrej Pavelec has has this year is flat out unlikely.

Kevin Cheveldayoff cannot let a mistake of the past continue to drag down this hockey team. A change needs to be made for this team to move forward and buying out Ondrej Pavelec is the first step.

Bonus link: Our buddy Garik over at Hockey Graphs ran some numbers. These numbers suggest Ondrej will post worse numbers that every single goalie in the NHL over the next three season. Here is the link.

Extra-special-super-bonus on why Pavelec is getting all of the starts right now

Kevin Cheveldayoff isn't blind. Kevin Cheveldayoff isn't stupid. He has to see what is happening with Ondrej Pavelec and one would hope he is considering a buyout. If he hasn't considered it, he isn't doing his job.

That said, buying out a contract is a heavy decision. New head coach Paul Maurice has been tasked with evaluating this team. It isn't implausible that Chevy has asked PoMo to give Ondrej a thorough evaluation. This can only be done if Ondrej plays the games. Cool guy Peter Tessier has suggested the decision isn't Maurice's to make. What if he is right?

Of course it is possible that Kevin Cheveldayoff still believe Ondrej Pavelec is an elite goalie. Perhaps Maurice hasn't seen enough of them to make an informed decision. Nobody knows. What I do know is - I will be very much disheartened if Ondrej Pavelec enters next season as the Jets uncontested starter. I will also be resigned to another season of disappointing, inconsistent play.

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