Snow trickles from the skies, presents are unwrapped, families gather, and hours are spent on outdoor rinks. The holiday season is upon us. The holidays alone give many people in Winnipeg to feel happy. Jets fans have never felt what it is like to be in a playoffs spot during the holiday season. But this year, as the Jets sit atop the Western Conference wild card race, the holidays just feel that much better.
A big reason for this new found joy is that the Winnipeg Jets currently possess something that many teams would love to have. The kind of new toy that every kid wishes they could have and would sacrifice anything to get. So far this season, the Jets have got everything and more from goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson, leads the NHL in GAA while allowing a impressive 1.77 goals per game. Along with his league leading .939 save %. Topped off with his 9-2-2 record. Oh, by the way he is 24 years old and this is his first full NHL season.
Hutchinson has undoubtedly been the Winnipeg Jets best goaltender this year and that comes to the pleasure of many Jets fans. Segments of fans, media and others from around the hockey world wondered why the Jets did not buyout goaltender Ondrej Pavelec last summer. Many prepared themselves for a headache of a season, with Pavelec at the helm.
Who knew that Michael Hutchinson could step in and make such an impact for the Jets? You could say the Jets had their worries with Hutchinson as well when the Jets acquired goaltender Peter Budaj from the Montreal Canadiens. He was brought in as insurance between the pipes. A few months later, Hutchinson finds himself as one of the best statistical goalies in the NHL. Despite this, Hutchinson remains in a work share.
For what it's worth, I don't see it as a controversy anymore. I see it as simple; Michael Hutchinson is the new sheriff in town - even if coach Paul Maurice is not ready to say it.
Prior to the teams 5-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, coach Paul Maurice commented on the Jets goaltending situation.
"When you have two guys who have played exceptionally well, you can’t make a wrong call,"
Sure, Ondrej Pavelec has improved this season, but it is hard to label his showing as " exceptional." Michael Hutchinson certainly deserves such a label.
This leaves some to wonder, why isn't Hutch getting more starts?
This is one possibility:
@AIHJacobStoller it's not logical, but Pav's $$$ has to be the reason— Travis Hrubeniuk (@thrubeniuk) December 24, 2014
@AIHJacobStoller because of pavelecs contract— Brendan Hecht (@BrendanHecht) December 24, 2014
Is that really the meat of it though?
Pavelec's $3.9 mil cap hit is a controversial figure in Winnipeg, but should Pavelecs salary really matter? Winning games or being right about a goalie? It is hard to imagine the latter is a big factor.
It could also be about protecting a young goalie. Michael Hutchinson is playing well, but he still has just 17 NHL games under his belt. Perhaps Paul Maurice wants to build him up slowly, but they could simply give Hutch the ball, and let him run with it and lets see what happens.
Regardless, with significant injuries to defensemen Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart, the Jets need there last line of defense to be at it's very best. Having Hutchinson in the net more often than not appears to help a shaky defense core and a team that is in the thick of a playoff push.
For now, it is nice to see a prospect climb the ranks. Hutchinson's story has been fun to watch, and we would all love to see more of him. He certainly has earned it. He deserves more.
One more quote for the road.
"The guy’s a freak back there. He just battles so hard for us. We’re lucky to have him between the pipes." ~ Blake Wheeler (source)
Happy Holidays folks! Go Jets Go!!