The Winnipeg Jets have a goalie problem. This year both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have struggled this year with Hellebuyck going through a particularly tough spell at the moment. This is normal for goalies because like all players they go through highs and lows. Goalies have the added pressure of everyone seeing their highs and their lows with no teammate to cover for them.
Jacques Plante played for the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, the St. Louis Blues, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Boston Bruins. During that time he played in 837 NHL games. He knows a thing or two about being a goalie in the NHL. The mentality of the position requires someone who is both insane, and insanely tough. It also requires mastery of a skill that seems impossible: tracking a little piece of rubber on the ice while there are 10 other bodies trying to block your view or keep the puck away from you. Goaltending is hard. The person coaching the goalies might be the most important coach for a team because of this.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens is considered to be one of the best goalies in the world. He has also had some major down years, including 2009-2010 when Jaroslav Halak ended up as the starting goalie for the Habs and Price was relegated to being the back-up goalie. the 2009-2010 season was an important season for Price as long-time Habs goalie coach Roland Melanson had been fired the previous off-season, possibly because he was trying to change the style of goaltending Price played. Price struggled and in the subsequent season spent long periods of time on the bench being rebuilt as a goalie by Pierre Groulx, the new goalie coach. Groulx worked with Price to get him back to what he is good at: being in position and trusting his instincts.
The Habs have invested a lot in Price since they drafted him fifth overall in 2005. After Price struggled at the end of the lockout-shortened season of 2012-2013, the Canadiens once again fired their goalie coach and brought in Stephen Waite from the Chicago Blackhawks. Waite, like Groulx before him, has worked with Price to accentuate his strengths. Price is now seen as one of the top goalies in the world, no questions asked. Aside from the occasional blip, he is consistently capable of giving his team every opportunity they need to win. What does this have to do with the Winnipeg Jets? Almost everything.
There is probable cause to think that each goalie in the NHL learned to play a slightly different way and the best goalie coaches are not the ones who preach a certain style, but the ones that adapt their coaching to suit the style that the goalie that they are given instead of forcing a style onto a goalie. This does not mean that the goalie coach should not do everything possible to improve each goalie, but they should be doing so in the context of highlighting each goalies strengths and limiting their weaknesses.
Mike Richter not only hits the nail on the head, but I think also highlights what could have possibly gone wrong between the Jets goalies and goalie coaches Wade Flaherty (NHL) and Rick St. Croix (AHL). Watching Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson in the NHL today is an experience. They make the easy saves look hard or does not make them at all. They also makes some wildly spectacular saves that should not be nearly as impressive as they are because they are out of position. This is a change from early on when both goalies were fairly solid positionally. What changed? Possibly the goalie coaches were used to coaching Ondrej Pavelec, a goalie whose middle name is “I will make a routine save as hard as possible”. Watching the other Jets goalies, I wonder if what has happened to them is that instead of being coached up on what they are already good at, they have been coached more like Pavelec and less like themselves. This would be taking them away from being positionally strong and making the easy save and putting them into a position where every shot could go into the net.
When Hellebuyck and Hutchinson first made the NHL both goalies looked like they could amount to something reliable. They now look shakier. This is not the end for either of them though, especially if there is something off with the coaching. As Carey Price has shown with the Montreal Canadiens, finding the right coach that can fill the needs of the starter is so important. The Habs showed now fear in moving on when it just stopped working for Price. It is possible that the problem is that the Jets have the wrong goalie coach(es) in the organization to serve the needs of their goalies. If that is the case, it is on them to find new coaches to see if the goaltending can be remedied by changing coaches. It will not be immediate. Remember, Price played as the back-up for his first season under Pierre Groulx. The Jets have two broken goalies, so it might take more time for them to re-learn to trust their instincts again. They can hopefully be fixed.
It is very possible that Hellebuyck’s struggles are simply part of the learning curve of all NHLers. In Hutchinson’s case, it has been going on for too long to be anything other than either a sign of the type of goalie he is or the fact he has completely lost the skill-set that got him to the NHL.
The Winnipeg Jets have two goalies who are not playing that great right now. It is possible that how they are playing this year is who both goalies are, but it is also possible that they have changed their playing styles for the worse under the Jets goalie coaches. If this is the case, the Jets should move on from Flaherty and St. Croix and replace them with coaches that can rebuild the goalies for the future.