Buying out Ondrej Pavelec is a popular idea these days. If he's bought out this off season, his salary won't count against the cap, which would be terrific, as his is one of the worst contracts among goaltenders in the league. The only arguments against buying out Pavelec that comes up are that:
1. He could rebound, and become a quality starting goaltender.
2. It's not his fault. No goalie would have good stats behind the Winnipeg Jets' D.
3. If we buy him out, and we don't manage to pick up a starter in free agency, we could be in a really bad position, as we don't have an experienced NHL player to put in a starting role.
The first argument is a pipe dream at this point. People who have watched him since his Atlanta days can see that he isn't as athletic anymore (or he doesn't work as hard, which is just as bad). He has been regressing for three straight seasons, and there has been no indication that he will fix his fundamental flaws as a goaltender.
The second argument is stupid. It has been disproved time and time again that a goaltender's Sv% is affected to such an extent by playing behind a bad defensive team. Even if, for arguments sake, the next goalie who becomes a starter for the Winnipeg Jets ends up being one of the worst starters in the league, he would not be paid $3.9M per year for several more years to put up the worst stats in the league. Which is what Pavelec is doing right now.
The third argument is, at first glance, the only argument that holds any water. A goalie that is better than Pavelec should definitely be available in free agency, and not many teams are looking for a starter this year. Also, a goalie doing worse than Pavelec isn't very likely, and perhaps Hutchinson and Pasquale could put up better stats. However, neither of those two has any experience being even an NHL backup, and the one who looks better in the AHL (Hutchinson), doesn't even have experience of being a full-time AHL starter. Going into a season counting on one of them becoming a starter is just way too risky. So what if we don't manage to pick up an experienced NHL goalie?
However, is it really unheard of? How do most goalies become starters in the NHL? Is it really a common practice to let the goalie spend several years in the minors and being a backup in the NHL? And what if you count on a goalie to become an NHL starter without doing this first? Does this ruin the goalie's potential?
Remember that most of the goalies, if not all of them, has been a starter in a very competitive league at one point or another in their career.
As for how they become starters... Let's have a look around the league.
Anaheim - Hiller had one season as a backup, playing 23 games for the Ducks in 2007-08. He had 6 games in the AHL too, for whatever reason, but it appears that he was meant to be a backup that season to test him out. Moved on to a 1A/1B situation the year after. No seasons as an AHL starter. Took the position from a fairly old Giguere.
Boston - Rask only had 5 games of NHL experience before he was put in a 1A/1B situation in the 2009-10 season. He went back to being a backup for a couple of years after that, as he got injured and Thomas was busy kicking ass, taking names and breaking records. Was a starter in the AHL for two seasons before this. Took the position from Thomas, who took it back.
Buffalo - Miller had 16 games of NHL experience before being put in a 1A/1B situation in 2005-06. However, he was never a de facto backup, as he was spending most of the time being seasoned in the AHL before that season. The 16 games he played appears to have been call-ups because of injuries. Spent three seasons as a starter in the AHL. Took the role from Biron, who still had a few seasons left as a starter.
Calgary - Rämö is a bit of an oddity, as he was technically an NHL back-up before he got the chance in a 1A/1B situation this season. However, those seasons as an NHL back-up was 5 years ago, and definitely not comparable to what Hutchinson would do. Had to battle with Berra for the starting position this year.
Carolina - Khudobin (Ward). Not much to say about this one. Ward and Khudobin both spent a season each as a de facto back-up before being put in a starting role.Khudobin had to take the starting position from Ward, who at this point was fairly injury riddled and not very good.
Chicago - Crawford had 7 games of NHL experience, without spending any seasons as a back-up, when he was thrown into a starting role in 2010-11. Spent several years as a starter in the AHL before this. Competition for the starting role was a very old Marty Turco.
Colorado - Varlamov spent a few seasons backing up Theodore in Washington before he became a starter. I think he had problems with injuries, but nevertheless, he was a back-up first. No seasons as a starter in the AHL. Had to take the starting role from Theodore, who wasn't very good at this point in his career.
Columbus - Bobrovsky was straight out of the KHL when he became a starter in Philadelphia in 2010-11. Beat out perennial Vezina Trophy nominees Boucher and Leighton for the starting position.
Dallas - Lehtonen had 4 games of NHL experience (and no seasons as an NHL back-up) when he managed to wrestle the starting position in Atlanta away from goaltender legends such as Michael Garnett, Mike Dunham, Adam Berkhoel and Steve Shields in 2005-06. Had one season as an AHL starter first.Beat out an old Mike Dunham, and other bad goalies, for the starting role.
Detroit - Howard had 9 games of NHL experience (and no seasons as an NHL back-up) when he became a starter in 2009-10, starting 63 games. He was seasoned in the AHL for several years as a starter first. Beat out Osgood, who was pretty much the age of the Crypt keeper's uncle at this point (with about the same skill level when it came to goaltending), for the starting role.
Edmonton - Dubnyk (Scrivens). Both goalies spent time as a backup in the NHL before becoming starters. Dubnyk in 2012-13 (the season before in a 1A/1B situation) and Scrivens in 2013-14. Dubnyk beat out an old Khabibulin, and Scrivens beat out... No one. For the starting role.
Florida - Thomas. Despite being fairly old when he became a starter for the Bruins in 2005-06, he never actually spent a season as an NHL backup before this. He had a couple of years as an AHL starter before this. Beat out Toivonen and Raycroft for the starting role.
Los Angeles - Quick played in the ECHL and the AHL (as well as three games in the NHL) the season before he became a starter for the Kings in 2008-09. No seasons as a full-time starter in the AHL before he became an NHL starter. Won the role over stalwarts Ersberg and LaBarbera.
Minnesota - Bäckström was never a backup in the NHL before he got put in a 1A/1B situation in 2006-07. He was a starter in the Finnish league, but never in the AHL before this. Won the starting role when Fernandez went to Boston, leaving Minnesota with Bäckström and Harding the season after the 1A/1B season.
Montreal - Price was never a backup in the NHL before he got put in a 1A/1B situation in 2007-08. He never spent time as an AHL starter either. Won the starting role over actual good goalie, Jaroslav Halak.
Nashville - Rinne had 3 games of NHL experience before becoming a starter for the Predators in 2008-09. He spent three seasons as an AHL starter before this. Won the starting role over Dan Ellis.
New Jersey - Schneider (Brodeur). Schneider spent a few seasons as an NHL backup before becoming a starter in 2012-13. He was also an AHL starter for a couple of seasons. Brodeur was never an NHL backup, or an AHL full-time starter, before becoming an NHL starter in 1993-94. Schneider took the starting role from good goaltender Roberto Luongo. NHL.com won't show me who played for the Devils that far back, so I can only assume that Brodeur took the starting role from Thomas Carpenter when he went out to fight in the American Revolutionary War.
Islanders - Nabokov was never a full-time backup in the NHL before becoming a starter in 2000-01. He spent a couple of seasons in what appeared to be a shared starting role in the AHL before this. His competition for the starting role was Steve Shields, who now has appeared on this list twice!
Rangers - Lundqvist was never a backup in the NHL, or a starter in the AHL, before becoming a starter for the Rangers in 2005-06. His competition for the starting role was Kevin Weekes.
Ottawa - Anderson was a backup in the NHL and the AHL for 8 seasons before becoming a starter for the Avalanche in 2009-10. Beat out Peter Budaj for the starting role.
Philadelphia - Mason was never a backup in the NHL or a starter in the AHL before becoming a starter for the Blue Jackets in 2008-09. Beat out a whole bunch of bad goalies for the starting position.
Phoenix - Smith spent time as both an NHL backup for several seasons, and an AHL starter for several seasons, before becoming a starter in Tampa Bay in 2008-09.Beat out several bad goalies, including Rämö, for the starting position.
Pittsburgh - Fleury was never a backup in the NHL before becoming a starter in 2005-06. He did spend a season as an AHL starter before this. Competition for the starting role included Jocelyn Thibault and Sebastien Caron.
San Jose - Niemi was never a backup in the NHL before being put in a 1A/1B situation in Chicago in 2009-10. He appears to have spent a season in a shared starting role in the AHL the season before. His competition for the starting role that season was Huet. The season after, he beat out Niittymäki (who really wasn't a very good goalie when he wasn't playing the Atlanta Thrashers) for the starting role on the Sharks.
St. Louis - Halak spent time as a backup in both the AHL and the NHL before playing in a 1A/1B situation in 2009-10. Halak actually had strong competition in Carey Price when he managed to get into a 1A/1B situation. Became a full-time starter when he had to compete with Ty Conklin for the starting position in St. Louis in 2010-11.
Tampa Bay - Bishop spent time as a backup in the NHL, and both a backup and a starter in the AHL, before becoming a starter in 2013-14. Became a starter when he beat out Anders Lindbäck for the starting position this season.
Toronto - Bernier (Reimer). Bernier spent two seasons as a backup for the Kings, and a starter in the AHL, before becoming a start in 2013-14. Reimer was never a full-time AHL starter, or a full-time NHL backup, before being put in a 1A/1B situation in Toronto in 2010-11. Reimer's competition for the starting role was an old Giguere, and a bad Gustavsson. Bernier stole the starting position from Reimer.
Vancouver - Luongo never spent a season as a full-time NHL backup, nor a full-time AHL starter, before becoming a starter in Florida in 2000-01. Took the starting position from Trevor Kidd.
Washington - Holtby. As with Varlamov, it's hard to say because of all the goaltender injuries in Washington. It appears that he was the starter in the AHL for several years (that got to spend a lot of time in the NHL because of injuries) before becoming a starter in 2012-13. Took the starting position from under the nose of Neuvirth.
Winnipeg - Pavelec spent two years as a starter in the AHL before being put in a 1A/1B position in 2009-10. Didn't have much competition for the starting role, as his competition were old backups.
It appears that about 1/3 of the teams in the league has a starter that spent at least one season as a backup before becoming a starter in the NHL.
Roughly half the teams has a starter that spent more than one season as a starter in the AHL before becoming a starter.
Jonathan Quick is basically Hutchinson. We just have to wait a few seasons for Hutch to win a Conn Smythe, and win us a Cup.
I did not take into account how well the players did in the different leagues and roles. However, Hutchinson has done very well in the AHL, so this shouldn't be something that affects him negatively even if that is taken into account.
There aren't a lot of starters who stole the role from a prominent starter. Most of them appear to have taken the opportunity of having to battle with a poor goalie (or a regressing old goalie) and take the starting role from him.
Several of the top goaltender's in the league were given the chance to grab the starting role, without spending much time in the minors, or as a backup, first.
I don't see any reason for why Hutchinson shouldn't be given the chance to play in at least a 1A/1B situation next season. Even giving him the starting role isn't unheard of, and he can't really do much worse than Pavelec. Absolute worst case scenario would be that he does worse than Pavelec. If that happens, a goaltender should be available in free agency next year. We also have a couple of really good looking goaltender prospects in Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie that will be a year closer to possibly playing in the NHL at that point.
Buying out Pavelec can't be a bad thing at this point, and the arguments for why he shouldn't be bought out are running out.