The curious case of Ondrej Pavelec

Coming off a 50 save performance in Tuesday night’s overtime loss against the Flyers, and picking up another solid win against the Lightning on Friday, a lot of people are talking about Ondrej Pavelec. All season long he’s been a bright spot on a Jets team that has lacked consistency, and whenever he plays the way he did this week, we don’t hesitant to rant and rave about our goalie.

But as good as he seems to Jets fans, people outside of Winnipeg don’t seem to consider him an elite goaltender in his league. Of course, to Jets fans that’s blasphemy, but you can argue that these haters may actually have a point, and that’s what makes Pavelec’s case so intriguing.

This season – Pavelec’s third as a starter – he finds himself only 32nd in the league in goals against average, and 26th in save percentage. His stats last season are eerily similar with his GAA being 34th in the league and his save percentage being 26th.

These are not impressive statistics by any means, and when people suggest Pavelec should be considered for the Vezina trophy against a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist – who’s within the top two in both of these categories with six more wins in seven fewer games than Pavelec – it’s more of a home team fantasy than a plausible argument.

But despite all of that, there’s something undeniably special about the abilities of Ondrej Pavelec. As a goalie, you have the capability to either win or lose a game on any given night, a responsibility that goaltenders share with no other player. I think what’s special about Pavelec is that he realizes this responsibility. Many times this season, the Jets have won because of Pavelec and Pavelec alone, and very seldom is he the reason for losing a game.

Pavelec’s ability to carry his team on his back is an intangible that can’t be defined in statistics, because every team’s situation is different. And to have someone who understands that role and thrives in it, is something every team should be coveting.

Just look at two of the teams the Jets are battling with for a playoff spot. The Toronto Maple Leafs have two very talented goaltenders in James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson, but the team has lost seven of eight games because neither goaltender is winning games for them. The Washington Capitals even have three capable goaltenders – Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby – who seem to share the very same problem.

Clearly a goaltender like Pavelec is incredibly valuable, and yet you don’t see him covered very often on TSN, you’re not going to see him in the Under Armour commercials, and we haven’t even seen him in an all-star game.

Yes, he’s only 24, and this is really only his second year as a successful starter in the league. But beyond Jets fans, Pavelec is still known as the guy who passed out in the middle of a game (just check his Wikipedia page).

It’s safe to say Pavalec should be sticking around in Winnipeg for a while, and as long as that’s the case, he’s going to be beloved in our eyes. But as far as the rest of the league goes, Pavelec’s legacy is uncertain. Will Pavelec continue to stay under the radar, or is he a future superstar in this league? As Jets fans, we know Pavelec is a good goaltender, but the question is, when it’s all said and done, what will be Pavelec’s legacy in the NHL?

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Joey Traa is a life long sports fan, and a Creative Communications student at Winnipeg's Red River College. He's also a writer for the WInnipeg Minor Hockey Association. For him, the NHL is an item of passion and study, and with the Jets back in town, it makes it all that much better. He's also always had a fascination of sports media, which makes the opportunity to write about his local sports team that much more of a blessing. You can read more from Joey on his blog at joeytraa.blogspot.com

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