Demotion from the Jets could be the end
After years of mediocre results on a mediocre team, Ondrej Pavelec paid a steep price on Monday as the Winnipeg Jets made the rumour official. The franchise number one goalie since relocating to Winnipeg was being sent down to the Manitoba Moose.
For Jets head coach Paul Maurice, the young goalies knocking at the door have earned the right to fight for the number one job.
“We have two good young goalies here that have both had blocks of time where they looked like they had the ability to become number one guys and they need that opportunity to show it and they’ll get it here,” Maurice said on Monday.
“Part of that draft and develop is that once you feel you’ve got them to the point where they can push for a prime core job they need the opportunity to do that. They’ve earned it.”
The move can’t be much of a shock to anyone who has been watching this team. Pavelec’s numbers just haven’t been good for a long time, and between the work of Michael Hutchinson in the last two seasons, and Connor Hellebuyck stepping in and looking NHL-ready while Pavelec was injured last season, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
But, with how the True North organization values loyalty, there were some who speculated that Pavelec would be allowed to use the final year of his hefty NHL contract to play for a new one, although unlikely with the Jets.
Could a big year with the Moose be enough to get an NHL club to offer Pavelec a contract next season? With the development of Eric Comrie a priority for the organization will Pavelec even see much action on the farm?
Despite talk from Maurice and other Jets officials about the young guys deserving a shot (and they do), there was another big factor in play – the NHL expansion draft that is looming after the 2016-17 season ends.
Each team has to expose an under contract goalie and the safe money is Hutchinson will be that guy. If they had sent him down to the Moose, there was a decent chance he would be snagged from the waiver wire by another club.
There was also the potential risk of leaving Hellebuyck highly de-motivated. It would have been easy to imagine Hellebuyck pretty disgruntled if asked to bide his time in the minors yet again after the body of work he’s put together the last two years.
Hellebuyck isn’t the type to lack in confidence.
“This is what I’ve worked for my entire life, but I’m not satisfied yet. I want to win a Stanley Cup and I think team in here can do it,” Hellebuyck said on Monday.
What comes next is anyone’s guess, both with the big club, and down on the farm. Fairly or not, Pavelec has been tagged by some as having a bad attitude, and already on Monday there was some speculation that Pavelec might not report to the Moose.
However, at the very least, Maurice said the 29-year-old much-maligned goalie took the news as well as can be expected.
“It was a really short, very professional meeting and he handled it like a pro,” Maurice said.
And what about the Jets. Who is the number one? Who will play the majority of the games?
“Whoever’s in the net will be our number one goalie on any given night,” Maurice said to some chuckles from the assembled media, before adding, “I really feel that way.”
He wasn’t done there. When asked if they would be used as a true tandem..
“They won’t let us play two at same time,” he answered slyly, the only thing missing being the rimshot.
While Maurice said he didn’t believe it was important to have a so-called number one guy, he made it clear he is keeping all of his options open, but that both goalies will have chances to prove themselves.
“We’re going to need both goalies and it could look an awful lot like a rotation – both need to be given the opportunity to grab (the number one role),” Maurice said. “Both are going to grab it at different times and both will lose it at different times.”
Maurice also made it clear that he is fully expecting Hutch and Helly to battle hard to keep the other out of the net this season.
“That’s where growth comes – not just keep throwing a guy back in no matter the result – they’re going to have to fight for it and then perform under that pressure,” Maurice said.
With a young team in front of them, and a defence corps that is somewhat suspect, these two young goaltenders will be put to the test often this season.
The good news is that the Jets goaltending could be the best it has been in this team’s tenure in Winnipeg. The bad news is that it might need to be even better than that to even squeak into the postseason.
As for Pavelec, if Hutch or Helly struggles, or if there is an injury, he could still see some NHL action. But it really feels like his NHL career might be winding down.