Decisions are going to have to be made this offseason. Players will depart, new players will arrive and the Winnipeg Jets roster could look very similar or very different to last season's roster. A lot of things remain up in the air, but perhaps at the top of the list is the Jets situation between the pipes. Heading in to the off-season the Jets still have their two goalies from last season Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson under contract. They will also have goaltender Connor Hellebuyck waiting in the wings and he could be knocking on the door for a spot.
Each goaltender carries some risk moving forward, but it each has value and it might be smart for the Winnipeg Jets to get a return for one of the three. Lets take a closer look at the Jets goaltenders.
Hutchinson may have not been front and centre for the Winnipeg Jets during the playoffs and for the back end of the season, but his contribution to the team needs to be noted. Rookie goaltenders generally aren't expected to do much. They are usually given minimal ice and have to batter to earn minutes. It is rare that they are thrown in to the fire and expected to win games.
Hutch force the door open at the start of the year. He played well and when Ondrej Pavelec started to struggle, Hutchinson was called upon to perform. He did. Hutchinson went 21-10-5 along with a .914% save percentage and a 2.39 GAA this season - though most of the plus numbers came early.
Heading in to training camp, don't be surprised if Ondrej Pavelec starts out as the starter. It makes sense, but that doesn't mean that Hutchinson can't steal his spot back just as quickly as he lost it. Hutchinson may have split time with Pavelec last season, but he has the ability to be the team's number one.
Would the Jets consider trading Hutchinson? It wouldn't be foolish to ponder the idea of trading him, but I don't see the team pulling the trigger on that kind of deal. Such a deal would likely signal the Jets have more faith in Connor Hellebuyck moving forward. Hutchinson remains relatively unproven and if the Jets were to trade him now it is doubtful that they'd receive more than a mid round pick.
This off-season would be the prime time to trade Ondrej Pavelec. His trade value is most likely as high as its going to get. One could make the case that Ondrej Pavelec was the prime reason the Jets made the playoffs this season. I surely think that without Pavelec stepping up, the Jets would have fell short of the playoffs. Pavelec endured a terrible stretch in the middle of the season, and as he struggled he took a backseat to Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson then began to slip and Pavelec was given another shot in March. He certainly made the most of that shot opportunity.
Pavelec's late season heroics were phenomenal, there is no doubt about that, but his lack of consistency continues to be worrisome. If the Jets were to trade the Czech net minder, they would free up some cap space, but they'd be putting a load on a couple young kids.
The likelihood of Pavelec being traded, is pretty slim. While it is unlikely that Jets would get a better return for Pavelec that they would right now, his electric play towards the end of the season put a band-aid over the previous three inconsistent seasons between the pipes for the Jets and it is likely that Pavelec starts next year at the Jets' number one. The Jets are in arguably the toughest division in hockey in the Central division. Goaltending is key for for any team. Can the Jets' rely on Ondrej Pavelec to carry them?
Connor Hellebuyck represents the future, and a very bright one at that. Hellebuyck had an impressive rookie season on the coast with the St. John's IceCaps in which he recorded a 28-22-5 record accompanied by 2.58 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Earlier this month, Hellebucyk shined brightly for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships when he lead them to a bronze medal. Hellebuyck posted outstanding numbers. He recorded 7-1 record that included two shutouts. He posted a 1.97 GAA and a .947 save percentage as well. Hellebuyck acted as a brick wall in the tournament as he faced some of the worlds best.
Team USA teammate and Los Angelas Kings forward Trevor Lewis had some strong words of praise for the goaltenders performance in the tournament.
"Connor's our best player night in, night out," Lewis said "He was there to stop pucks for us, and clear rebounds. We knew if we had a breakdown he was going to be there, he was a calming presence for us. I can't say enough about him."
When a 22 year old AHL goalie is spoken about that highly at a tournament such as the World Championships , you know that this guy is special.
#IIHFWorlds Media All Star Team G - Hellebuyck - USA D - Burns - CAN D - Ekman-Larsson - SWE F - Jagr - CZE F - Spezza - CAN F - Hall - CAN— Julie Robenhymer (@JulieRobenhymer) May 17, 2015
Hellebuyck has proven that he can play against some of the worlds best, but will that be enough to earn him a spot with the big club? Not necessarily. Jets management might still have a bit of reluctance to throw the young goalie in to the fire right away. He might be better suited to play one more year in the AHL. This also gives the Jets a backup plan if an injury occurs. Back in the Manitoba Moose days (1.0), a young rookie stud by the name of Cory Schneider was dominating. He remained in the AHL for a couple of years and even lead the team to a Calder Cup berth. Schneider might have been ready for the NHL during some of those years, but the extra years of development in the minors appear to have payed dividends.
You can basically 100% rule out the possibility of the Jets trading Hellebuyck. He is likely the closest of the three to an untouchable at this point. Hellebuyck's time might not be this upcoming season, but his future with the team looks like a sure thing. That being said, his play in training camp could light a fire under the Jets two other goaltenders. Who knows, maybe he earns a spot with the club and forces the Jets to make a tough decision.
Whats the best move for the Jets
After weighing the pros, and the cons, I feel that the best move for the Winnipeg Jets at this point is to trade Ondrej Pavelec. Hutchinson might have had a late season slip, but he wasn't even given a shot to recover from this stretch because Pavelec went on a roll. Hutchinson has proven what he can do and it's time the Jets gave him the crease and let him run with it. Connor Hellebuyck showed he can play against the big boys at the IIHF World Championships and it could benefit him to back up Hutchinson. In the event that the Jets do not trade Pavelec, Hellebuyck won't be too far away from Jets fans as he will surely impress with the hometown Manitoba Moose and it will be quite easy to go catch a glimpse of this.