It has been nearly a month since the Winnipeg Jets were swept out of the playoffs by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and the Anaheim Ducks. Jets fans have begun to recover, though many lost interest in the rest of the playoffs, and have started to look ahead to next season. There are many interesting questions surrounding the Winnipeg team who only have 7 forwards under contract next season. Michael Frolik, Drew Stafford, and most of the bottom 6 forwards are all free agents, and the Jets have many prospects that may finally be ready to make the leap to the big club. The most interesting story line however comes in the Winnipeg crease, where the Jets, unexpectedly, may find themselves in a tough position. Heading into the last couple years, goaltending has been a question, now the Jets seem to have more than enough answers. That is why now is the perfect time to trade Ondrej Pavelec, and change the way this team looks heading forward.
Trade talks have surrounded the Czech goaltender for much of his time in Winnipeg, but due to some consistency problems, at many times Pavelec has been nearly impossible to trade. Nobody was interested in a goalie that they were unsure of what they would get every night. It seemed that would be the issue again this season when Michael Hutchinson took over the starting job and relegated the veteran to the back ups seat. However, when the rookie faltered and the Jets went back to Pavelec, he had made a change. The Jets got to the playoffs on the back of Ondrej Pavelec who was arguably the best goalie in the NHL down the stretch. Though not as strong in the playoffs, Pavelec did play well against the Ducks, there was not a lot he could have done differently against that high powered offense. This was positive enough for Pavelec, however he did not end his season on that note. Instead he headed home to play for his country in the World Hockey Championships. Pavelec played very well for the host country, getting 6 wins in his eight games and posting a 1.95 GAA and 0.915 save percentage. He was among the best goaltenders in the tournament, while playing on the team that everyone was talking about. The most impressive outing however came in the Czechs loss to the Canadiens in the semi finals. Team Canada overwhelmed the host country all game, but Ondrej Pavelec held the Czechs in it, making 39 saves in the 2-0 loss. It was confirmation that the end of the season was not a fluke, and Pavelec is for real.
Though Pavelec’s play in the last couple months, both at the NHL level and internationally, has made him an attractive trade target for some teams, it is the play of the Jets other prospects that has made him expendable on this team. Starting with the Jets other goalie, though Hutchinson was replaced by Pavelec near the end of the year as the Jets starter, he proved over the season that he can carry the load. Hutchinson posted some great numbers, especially pre All Star break, and appears to be capable of being an NHL starting goalie. Apart from that, Connor Hellebuyck played great for St John’s in the AHL. He posted some unbelievable numbers on a not so great team, made the All Star game, and in his first pro season showed that he was ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Hellebuyck also traveled to the Czech Republic for the World Hockey Championships and has been one of the only goalies better than Ondrej Pavelec. Hellebuyck has carried a inexperienced American team to the semi finals by posting a perfect 6-0 record. He has a .944 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average. The Americans take on Russia later today with a trip to the finals against Canada at stake.
Going even further down the depth chart, the goaltender that most experts are most excited about in the Jets system is Eric Comrie. Comrie spent the bulk of this season with the Tri-City Americans, and played very well. He also helped team Canada get back to the top of the podium at the World Junior Hockey Championships last November. Comrie is still a few years away from making the leap to the NHL, but this may be his season to make the jump to the pros with the new AHL club in Winnipeg.
To be completely realistic, next season the Jets still will not be a Stanley Cup contender, and will have to fight everyday to make the playoffs again. Though they would be putting a lot of faith in a couple young goaltenders if they dealt Pavelec this season, the stakes are not that high. Pavelec’s value however, is at an all time high, and the Winnipeg Jets have other options. Winnipeg could get a decent asset in a trade, they would also give a few young goaltenders a chance to prove themselves, and grow into NHL calibre goaltenders. The Jets would could save themselves some money as well, Pavelec is owed 4.25 million dollars this season, and 4.75 next season. Both Hutchinson and Hellebuyck are on entry level deals, which would give the Jets around 3 million extra dollars to play around with. That could be the difference in signing some key free agents this summer.
Whether the Jets will trade a goaltender or not will be debated for the next few months, whether they should or not will probably be debated all season, but one thing is for sure. The Winnipeg Jets are deep in one of the most important positions in the game, and they may be able to parlay that into some extra help, or ride it into a second straight playoff position. Either way, the Winnipeg Jets are in a great position moving forward.
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