When it comes to their goaltending, the Winnipeg Jets remind me a lot of the clueless prospect with the wicked slapshot. It’s great that he has a bomb from the blueline, but he has a lot of deficiencies in his game that are keeping him from getting better. So what does he do? He continues to work on his slapshot at the expense of the areas of his game that really need work.
In a desperation move that worked, at least in the short term, the Jets recalled veteran Ondrej Pavelec from the minors for their game against the Arizona Coyotes last night. After allowing a bad goal on the very first shot he faced, Pavelec stopped 30 of the next 32 he faced – including a candidate for save of the year – and helped deliver a much-needed victory to his team. Jets coach Paul Maurice hinted strongly that Pavelec had earned the start Saturday afternoon when the Jets host the St. Louis Blues.
And who knows what will happen? Perhaps the Jets will ride a rejuvenated Pavelec down the stretch after picking him up off the scrap heap, and into the playoffs the way the Minnesota Wild did with Devan Dubnyk two years ago. That move was every bit as desperate as the one the Jets made in turning to Pavelec. Dubnyk has emerged as a contender for the Vezina Trophy this year, proving that goalies can get back to the top of their game after hitting rock bottom. Mike Smith did the same thing. There is no shortage of examples.
But the deeper issue here is the Jets and how they’ve handled their goaltending. And that’s where the clueless prospect comparison comes into play. Since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta five years ago, the Jets have done a ton of good things. They’ve drafted and developed skaters very, very well and have a roster that should allow them to compete on most nights. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has not been afraid to make significant deals, he re-signed Dustin Byfuglien long-term when conventional thinking had him out of town on the first luxury jet and he stared down defenseman Jacob Trouba when he demanded a trade. The Jets have a terrific group of young players and prospects as well.
Yeah, but that goaltending, though. According to corsica.hockey, the Jets have had a save percentage of .905 since 2011-12, which is better only than the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. In that time, they’re the fifth-worst team in the NHL in goals-against per 60 minutes, despite the fact that they’re a very respectable 11th-best in the league in scoring chances against per 60 minutes.
And all the while, it seems that Cheveldayoff and the Jets have been whistling through the graveyard, not worrying too much or addressing the root problem. Since moving the Winnipeg, the Jets have used a total of six goaltenders in five-plus seasons – Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson, Al Montoya, Connor Hellebuyck, Chris Mason and Peter Mannino. That’s not very many, which would be a good thing if the Jets were at or near the top of the goaltending statistics. But they aren’t. And with the exception of 2015-15, the only season they’ve made the playoffs since moving to Winnipeg, they haven’t been.
In Cheveldayoff’s time, the Jets have drafted five goalies – Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, Jamie Phillips, Jason Kasdorf and Mikhail Berdin. Not one of them was chosen with a pick higher than 59th overall. In addition, he has traded for only two goalies, dealing for the negotiating rights to Jonas Gustavsson before he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings, and dealing for Peter Budaj, who was left in the minors and never played a game for the Jets. His only free agent signing was Hutchinson.
Those are not the moves of an organization that is being proactive about its goaltending, either in the immediate future or the long-term. And when you ignore that aspect of your game, both from a drafting and developing standpoint, it’s bound to suffer and show up in the results. Back in our annual Future Watch edition in 2015, we at THN boldly predicted that based on their prospect crop, the Jets would win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
We’re going to have to amend that because unless they do something bold to address their goaltending, the Jets can forget about winning the Cup. They’re going to continue to struggle to make the playoffs.