News broke today that the injury Ondrej Pavelec suffered over the weekend in a win against the Coyotes will keep him sidelined for at least a month’s worth of action, if not longer. While it goes without saying that no one should ever wish injury upon a player, this development may actual have an unintentionally positive trickle-down effect for the Jets moving forward.
Things haven’t necessarily gone as planned in Winnipeg to start the year, as they currently find themselves sitting in 6th place in the Central coming off of their first playoff appearance since returning four years ago. While much of that has to do with the brutally difficult division they reside in, it certainly doesn’t help that they’ve been surrendering goals by the bushel-full early on. Their 65 goals against on the year are the 3rd most behind only Columbus and Calgary, and the struggles for those two teams in net have been well documented.
Seeing as he’s been between the pipes for the majority of those games, the onus has to fall squarely on the incumbent starter for the team’s struggles. This unfortunately hardly comes as a surprise given Pavelec’s NHL track record. While there was some discourse that he’d turned the corner last season and finally realized all of that raw potential evaluators have been raving about for years, his return back down to earth this season makes his ‘14-’15 success look like more of a blip on the radar than anything else:
Even with last year’s uptick in performance, Pavelec has still cumulatively been one of the worst regularly used goalies in the league by essentially any given measure since the franchise moved back to Winnipeg in 2011. His 38 ‘real bad starts’ during that stretch of time pace the league, his 47.3 ‘quality start’ rate is 63rd out of 70 qualified players (with at least 50 games to their name), and his .908 save percentage is 48th out of 61 qualifiers. Most of the goalies in his neighbourhood on those lists are either not even in the league anymore, or are sparingly used career backups. His propensity for making highlight-reel stops can make for good television, but the issue for himself and Jets is that it mostly speaks to the technical flaws in his game that constantly leave him out of position.
While exhibiting patience with your investment can serve as a commendable quality for executives in a front office, Winnipeg’s continued commitment to trying to make ‘Ondrej Pavelec, NHL Starter’ a real thing seems negligent at best. At this point ‘fetch’ is more likely to happen.
Coming to grips with a sunk cost is generally one of the first lessons in Business 101. While the Jets have admitted to having an internal cap of their own in the past, continuing to rely on someone purely because you feel financially obligated to do so isn’t a recipe for success.
Especially given the boom in organizational goaltending depth that they’ve cultivated in recent years. After showing very favourably in the AHL, Michael Hutchinson has established himself as a league average netminder at the very least during his 50 or so games at this level. Eric Comrie is probably still at least a year or two away, but he has looked stellar in his early AHL showings after they used a 2nd round pick on him in 2013.
Then there’s Connor Hellebuyck, who likely has the highest ceiling of the bunch. ESPN’s Corey Pronman had him ranked as his 5th best goalie prospect this past summer, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given how thoroughly he has dominated every stage he’s been on. It’ll be fascinating to see not only how he adjusts to the higher talent level that’ll be firing shots his way, but also how much rope Paul Maurice gives him if should he incur some preliminary hiccups. And if he thrives, what will the Jets do once Pavelec eventually returns from injury?
Regardless, this is a good problem for them to have. Much like last season when injuries saved the Jets from themselves and in turn, their season, this could very well be another turning point for them. Despite heavy evidence suggesting that Dustin Byfuglien should’ve been a defenseman from day one, it took injuries to nearly every single of their other blueliners for them to finally unleash him on the league in his most optimal position. Once they did so they took off:
They could once again be a problem for other teams to deal with, should their goaltending hold up enough to let their skaters do their thing. Despite their current standing in the Central division hierarchy, they’re still 8th in five-on-five goals for, and 10th in possession. With a precarious summer looming as Byfuglien and Ladd hit free agency and Trouba and Scheifele due for big pay raises, it sure would be a shame to see a team this talented fizzle out because of a self-inflicted wound. With Pavelec now on the shelf for the foreseeable future, this could be their way out.