Michael Hutchinson. The 25-year-old was once thought of as he who would save us from Ondrej Pavelec. What's happened in this temporarily post-Pavelec world is that Connor Hellebuyck has saved us from Hutch:
Since Pavelec went down. Hutchinson: 0-6-0 / 3.29 GAA / .890 SV% Hellebuyck: 9-4-0 / 1.93 GAA / .935 SV% / 1 SO— Brock Seguin (@Brock_Seguin) January 6, 2016
Hellebuyck's numbers are mildly outdated in that tweet; he is now 9-6-1 with a .931 SV%. Hutchinson's post-Pavelec numbers remain unchanged.
As Connor Hellebuyck's star has risen, Hutch's has faded. And now, with Pavelec's return increasingly within sight (though not imminent), the Winnipeg Jets will soon have a decision to make.
It is entirely possible that upon Pavelec's return, any three-headed monster situation might be swiftly dealt with by reassigning Hellebuyck to the Manitoba Moose. But given how phenomenal Helle has been since his recall, it would be a hard move to justify if maintaining accountability, much less any postseason illusions.
There's also a debate to be had over whether or not reassignment would be best for Hellebuyck's development. So long as he continues to play on a regular basis, the NHL may be the most appropriate place for him to learn. He hasn't exactly looked overwhelmed; is there anything left to prove at the AHL level?
The Jets could carry three goaltenders, but let's put that particular possibility aside. Just thinking about it hurts my brain. The Minnesota Wild aren't exactly a model of goaltending management I'm inclined to follow, and I am loathe to carry a third-stringer on the roster. While it's not patently unfair ("these are professional athletes" and all that jazz), it's hardly in anyone's best interests.
On the other side of the decision-making spectrum is one of the sexiest words in the NHL vocabulary: waivers. A land of milk and honey, where players such as Bobby Farnham and Jarret Stoll are snatched up, while Zack Kassian, Mark Fayne and Sam Gagner clear without issue. It's a weird world we live in sometimes.
Before pulling the trigger on any waiver placement, Winnipeg's brain trust will likely explore trade options, and so should we. It's a landscape not exactly bubbling with legitimate options, though as we cross off some of the more well-publicized possibilities, we'll add a few intriguing dark horse candidates.
Montreal and Arizona arguably topped the list of possibilities, but both have since likely moved on.
Normally speaking, Carey Price has the goaltending side of things covered for Montreal. However, the Canadiens' franchise netminder has been limited to 12 games this season, and isn't expected to return until after the All-Star break. It made for a situation worth watching, and intriguing trade sugar plums danced in our heads:
Unfortunately, the timing wasn't a fit. In dealing with a hobbled Price, the Habs turned to Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski. After sitting comfortably atop the Atlantic, they are now clinging to the 3rd seed. While goaltending wasn't solely responsible for the collapse, it sure didn't help at times.
In response, GM Marc Bergevin worked the phones and traded Zack Kassian for Ben Scrivens. In conjunction with this solution from management, Condon appears to have turned the corner in his last stretch of games. Regardless, Montreal has already reached out and found their external stopgap; it's unlikely they'll make any further goaltending moves.
King Louis I of St-Hyacinthe, Quebec
As for the Arizona Coyotes, they found Louis Domingue. Jets fans should be well-acquainted with his work; you may remember him from his 35-save performance against Winnipeg on New Year's Eve.
It's a shame, because Coyotes GM Don Maloney had openly discussed looking for goaltending options in the wake of Mike Smith's injury. Hutch even fit what Maloney was looking for to a T: a (somewhat) younger, controllable asset, rather than a rental.
The original plan had been for backup Anders Lindback to carry the load, and that if he kept them in the playoff race, Arizona would stand pat. While Lindback faltered, Domingue has not, with a 7-2-2 record and .932 SV%. Unless Domingue stumbles between now and the trade deadline, they're likely out of the goaltending hunt as well.
Timing Strikes Thrice
What about Buffalo? Nothing to see here either folks, as nominal starter Robin Lehner will soon return to the lineup, For a team not quite ready for primetime, Lehner and Chad Johnson are good enough. That lack of needing to contend right now means that should the injury bug strike again, Buffalo probably won't think twice about recalling Linus Ullmark. They've run with an Ullmark/Johnson tandem for most of the season.
And so in all three cases, the timing of events worked against Winnipeg. The Jets weren't and aren't going to trade Hutchinson while Pavelec is still injured (part of the impetus behind trading Hutch is to avoid the three-headed monster, a problem receiving an underperforming goalie in return obviously wouldn't solve). This unfortunately gave Montreal, Arizona and Buffalo time to address their netminding in a manner which didn't involve the Winnipeg Jets.
So, are there any greener pastures?
Perhaps. As On The Forecheck's Dan D. Bradley told the AIH 20416 Podcast on Sunday, Pekka Rinne has been run into the ground. It's an issue receiving increasing attention and for good reason. The numbers aren't very good, especially lately:
Over those 21 GP, Rinne has a 6-12-3 record and 482 saves on 540 shots against, a .893 SV%. Suffice to say something needs to change. #Preds— Philip Iver (@PhilipAIver) January 13, 2016
It might help if Rinne wasn't quite so leaned upon, which leads us to Nashville's backup goaltender situation. Simply put, Carter Hutton does not seem to have the trust of Peter Laviolette. For a team looking to make some noise in the playoffs, this is fast becoming an urgent issue.
Hutton is both cheap and a pending UFA; replacing and/or burying him would be a relatively minor move. The question is whether Nashville's brain trust consider Michael Hutchinson a significant enough upgrade to be worth their while.
David Poile has a few situations worth investigating. If Edmonton is unable or unwilling to re-sign Cam Talbot, perhaps they look to recoup some of the assets spent. Given how Matt Murray looks to be NHL ready, Pittsburgh might be convinced to part with Jeff Zatkoff. The Preds and Maple Leafs have done business together in recent memory; James Reimer, anyone? And I'm sure Anaheim would love to unload Anton Khudobin's contract.
There's an argument to be made that all of the above are more attractive options than Michael Hutchinson, though price and the opinion of pro scouts will certainly factor in. As for Winnipeg's side of this story, the Jets should be nonplussed about trading their backup goaltender to a divisional rival. I think Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie have the future down pat.
CARTER HUTTON WATCHES YOU SLEEP pic.twitter.com/fKIoPLjUkU— Ben (@HeCardReadGood) December 28, 2015
Failure is opportunity, and the Pacific Division is rife with failure
Here's a team for folks to chew on: the San Jose Sharks. In a wide-open (see: incredibly underwhelming) Pacific Division, no one's playoff hopes are dashed just yet (okay, aside from the Edmonton Oilers). In such a tight and terrible division, backup goaltenders may very well decide who ends up going to the postseason, for better and worse. Enter Alex Stalock.
After a reasonably impressive 24 games in 2013-14, Stalock was signed to a two-year, one-way contract with a $1.6 million AAV. He's since been significantly less impressive, with a .902 SV% last season and a .898 SV% this year (though of course he looked quite all right against Winnipeg Tuesday). Martin Jones and his .912 SV% have been okay, but Stalock's numbers could very well cost San Jose a playoff berth. The question is whether it'll be through his own losing record (he's currently 3-5-0), forcing Peter DeBoer to run Jones into the ground à la Rinne, or both.
Is Stalock's expiring contract substantial enough for owner Hasso Plattner to nix burying it for the year's remainder? I don't imagine so, but you never know. Troy Grosenick's contract is of the one-way variety next season; is he predestined for San Jose's backup gig, and might this dissuade a move bringing in any external help? Possibly, though Grosenick's AHL numbers this season can't have the Sharks exuding confidence in his NHL future.
There's a fit to be had here, if the Sharks think of Hutchinson as an upgrade. Regardless of if it involves Hutch, any genuine playoff machinations the Sharks hold may depend on ending Stalock's NHL experiment (Martin Jones being better than just okay would help as well).
Are the San Jose Sharks our last hope?
The Calgary Flames, woeful as they are, remain just two points out of 3rd in the Pacific. After stumbling to the point of being put on and clearing waivers, Karri Ramo has largely redeemed himself and is now a serviceable option. The same cannot be said of Jonas Hiller.
Hiller has played a relative pittance this season, and for good reason: he's been terrible.
He did earn a shutout last night, but it came against a Florida Panthers squad which managed 15 shots all game. It may be premature to say he's turned a corner. Even with yesterday's game factored in, his SV% is still just .870% over 11 GP.
The Flames have a goaltender of the future, and his name is
Joni Ortio Jon Gillies (most members of the Mason McDonald fan club went into hiding after a certain World Junior Championship). In case you don't know him, Gillies is the third member of Team America's future triumvirate of doom, alongside John Gibson and some other guy. But with both Hiller and Ramo pending UFAs, Calgary is in the position to add a controllable asset without blocking Gillies' path to stardom.
Calgary have already shown a willingness to waive one of their big-money goalies this season. Should they look to bring in a possible backup upgrade, it's easy to believe they would do it again. Given their goaltending situation beyond this season, a pending RFA such as Hutch might not be the worst idea.
His Own Worst Enemy
This one doesn't require much explanation, seeing as how we've watched the car wreck unfold before our eyes. As was mentioned above, since Pavelec went down with injury, Hutch is an abysmal 0-6-0, with a 3.29 GAA and .890 SV%.
This is perhaps the trickiest issue. If Hutch had even just kept his head above water, there wouldn't be the same clamour for Hellebuyck to remain with Winnipeg. But he didn't, and there is.
His splits on the season are interesting: .928% at home, versus .896 away. But he's played just four home games as opposed to 13 on the road, and Hutch's last MTS Centre start was the first of those post-Pav losses.
Among goaltenders who have played at least 15 games, Hutch's even-strength SV% of .907 ranks 42nd out of 45. Anders Lindback and Cam Ward have a higher EV SV%. The picture looks even more dreadful when using Nick Mercadante's 5v5 adjGSAA/60 (an explanation for which can be found here):
The above means 2015-16 Hutch has allowed .616 more goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 than what might be expected from league average goaltending. That might not sound like a lot, but it places him all the way at the bottom, in-between current swiss cheese stalwarts Cam Talbot and Jonathan Bernier.
@PhilipAIver yes. But 5v5 goals. So if a game has about 45 min of 5v5, it's about a half goal worse than lg average for all goalies. Bad.— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) January 14, 2016
Contrast that against Connor Hellebuyck, who when compared to league average has saved .662 more goals per 60 min of 5v5 hockey. As Mr. Mercadante tweeted a week ago, "It appears the heir apparent to the goaltending throne has arrived - #NHLJets Connor Hellebuyck".
also - Hutchinson may not have a job when Pavs returns.— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) January 8, 2016
So Where Do Things Stand?
I'll be honest, I started this article thinking that the window to trade Michael Hutchinson had closed. Taking a closer look at the Pacific Division in particular changed my mind:
The Los Angeles Kings are in, the Edmonton Oilers are likely out, & that's about all which can be said for certain. pic.twitter.com/Vs0hETBvyY— Philip Iver (@PhilipAIver) January 14, 2016
Arizona looks to be pulling away, but a regression from them is eminently believable. Anaheim and Vancouver are 6-2-2 over their last 10. Both the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames actually received quality starts from their backups recently. Those middle five teams look to be heading for a photo finish, and I firmly believe that the respective records of their backup goaltenders will go a long way to determining who's playing playoff hockey in mid-April.
Arizona, Nashville, San Jose, Calgary. They probably don't move the trade needle beyond "unlikely", but all it takes is one.
Hutchinson was never going to be traded before Ondrej Pavelec's return. But with a healthy Pavelec on the horizon, Winnipeg now faces the ever-uneviable position of having one goaltender too many.
Should things continue as they have, it's almost unthinkable that Hellebuyck would be reassigned. He's won over the fanbase, and rightfully so. When taken together, Helle's AHL numbers coupled with his admittedly small NHL sample size may indicate that he needs to take his learning to the big stage on a permanent basis. Does he really have anything left to prove against lesser competition?
We should also consider the trickle-down effect on Winnipeg's depth chart. In Hellebuyck's absence, Eric Comrie has become the go-to guy with the Manitoba Moose. It's a thankless job, but playing significant minutes is important for any young player's development, netminders included. Keeping them where they are may be best for both goalies, rather than a situation where each receives less.
Despite being cheap and controllable, Hutch's value has evaporated and the list of potential suitors is limited. I definitely would have taken Zack Kassian or Max Friberg, but those ships have sailed. Winnipeg might be lucky to receive a 3rd round selection, as Buffalo did in exchange for Jhonas Enroth last season. This may be disappointing to some, though as I argued when discussing the Lecavalier trade, a 3rd rounder is hardly negligible.
Even if the return is underwhelming, it may be best for both player and organization to move Hutch, should a deal present itself. Owing to on-ice results, Michael Hutchinson has lost his job. I don't know if he's "lost the coach's confidence", but Hellebuyck certainly has more of it. And no, Ondrej Pavelec isn't going anywhere. There's an argument to be made that he would be the one to keep anyways.
Trading Hutch would provide him the opportunity to continue being an NHL goaltender this season, while hopefully affording some return for Winnipeg. Of course, if there truly isn't a market to be found, he may simply clear waivers and remain Jets property. Just make sure he's backing up Comrie, and not the other way around.
Thanks for reading!