There will be few factors more vital to the Winnipeg Jets 2014-15 season of the Winnipeg Jets than goaltending. Ondrej Pavelec is set to return - unchallenged - as the team's starting netminder. This is despite finishing each of the last seasons with some of the worst starting numbers in the league. Ondrej's likely backup, Michael Hutchinson, is a 24 year old prospect who has played three NHL games.
Fans will be watching this situation closely and one has to imagine that management will be doing the same. Regardless of how they get it, or from whom, the Winnipeg Jets need better goaltending. Even if things don't go well and the team misses the playoffs finding a long term solution to goaltending would have to be considered a victory.
Reasons For Optimism
Losing weight. Offseason reports suggest that Ondrej Pavelec has reinvented himself physically. After spending the last handful of years listed as the second heaviest goalie in the league, Ondrej is said to be more fit and re-focused. It is hard to image this doing anything but helping his game.
New coach, new opportunity. The debate about the impact of a coach on goaltending aside, a new coach means Ondrej Pavelec is on a new leash. Both the General Manager and the Coach have endorsed him as a starter. This has to be good for his confidence. Ondrej should be entering this season renewed both physically and mentally and ready to give the team the best he has to offer.
Reasons For Pessimism
Dead horse. For more than a year now, talking about Ondrej Pavelec's numbers has felt like beating a dead horse. This isn't by design, but it is representative of just how long the numbers have been an issue. Pavelec has been a pro goalie for 7 years. Only once in those seven years has he finished ranked among the top 30 of his league in save percentage (minimum 10 games played). The one year he did, he finished in a three way tie for 29th. At the NHL level, he has had one season in which he's topped a .906 save percentage. The list of goalies who have struggle to this level, for this long and figured it out is very small.
Goalie aging curves may not be curves. While it is true, that many goalies have success well into their 30's it is also worth noting that on average, goalies peak statistically at a young age. There have been a number of studies done on the matter (one, two, three). All three studies, and everything else I've read on the matter suggest the Ondrej is likely well past his years of peak performance. The fact that his numbers have been in a decline for four years doesn't add confidence either. It is possible that Ondrej can buck this trend, but history suggests this isn't the most likely scenario.
Reasons For Optimism
Resume the résumé. Over the last few years, Michael Hutchinson has put together a quite a solid résumé. As a pro he has posted a top 10 save percentage in the ECHL and AHL twice - that is twice in each league. His career AHL save percentage (including playoffs) is .921. This is well above Ondrej's career numbers. He also took his team deep into the playoffs with some stellar performances (to be fair, Pav did the same). Hutch is pro ready and primed to take the next step.
Curve goes full circle. The aging curve of goalies was discussed above. While there isn't a ton of age separating these two goalies, the difference is relevant. Michael Hutchinson should be right in his prime. He is young, athletic and he squares on shooters.
Reasons For Pessimism
Third time's the charm. As much as his resume creates hope, Michael Hutchinson has played three games at the NHL level. He is far from a proven commodity. The odds of a goalie that played three NHL games previous to the season, taking a starting job are not high, but crazier things have happened.
AHL, shmAHL. Scouting reports are favorable, AHL numbers are very good, but unfortunately for Jets fans - goalies are voodoo. Success in one league does not guarantee success in another. The fact that Hutch has posted nice numbers in multiple leagues and for multiple teams is encouraging, but it is not a golden ticket.
Who wins out?
This is a tough one. As an outsider, it is impossible to know what kind leash either goalie will be given. It is also hard to predict a goalie's numbers over a small sample size, but small sample sizes are huge when it comes to coaching.Odds favor the goalie that gets off the the hottest start carrying the mail this year. Odd's don't point to either guy as a dominant force, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager Micheal Hutchinson continues his assent before I'd bet on Ondrej Pavelec figuring it out. One way or another, it would be nice if the Jets could find a long term solution this year.
Who do you think will finish the season as the Winnipeg Jets' starting goaltender.