Monday, 10 October 2016

The Unwanted Man

The image to the left is one that Jets fans know all too well. There were times when it appeared that Ondrej Pavelec was in excellent position and square to the shooter only to be fishing the puck out the net behind him moments later. That's not to say that Pavelec is a terrible goalie, but the Winnipeg Jets have decided to accelerate the timetable this season by placing Ondrej Pavelec on waivers while keeping Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson with the NHL club. Pavelec is expected to clear waivers due to his salary and report to the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

For a guy like me who looks at stats and tries to interpret the numbers a little more, Pavelec is, statistically, one of the worst starting netminders in the NHL. However, he's battled through some terrible teams in front of him to last nine grueling seasons with the Thrashers and Jets, but it appears his time is up. One year too soon, might I add.

The business side of the game is an easy explanation. Pavelec will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the Jets are hitching their wagons to Connor Hellebuyck in the near future. The Jets, however, needed some insurance in order to protect Hellebuyck in the Las Vegas expansion draft, so they went out and signed Michael Hutchinson - who was deemed to be expendable at the end of last season - to a two-year deal in order to expose Hutchinson in the expansion draft. Otherwise, this season would have seen Hellebuyck and Pavelec playing with the Jets and Eric Comrie and Jamie Phillips tending net for the Manitoba Moose. The Las Vegas expansion draft was the proverbial wrench in the gears for the Jets this season.

Had Winnipeg not had to expose a goaltender to the Las Vegas team, Hutchinson would have been very likely in another city this season. However, the cost of signing Pavelec to another one-year deal only to have to weather that storm if Las Vegas didn't select him - and why would they based on his stats? - was unlikely based on what his salary asks would have been. Therefore, signing Hutchinson to a very team-friendly deal and letting Pavelec play out his final season was an easy decision for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to make. It slowed the arrival of Eric Comrie by one season, but Comrie will get the bulk of the playing time in the AHL as it stands.

As we saw with the waiver wire today, there were a number of good players and veteran players cast aside by teams who are loading up on youth and speed. Ondrej Pavelec is literally caught in the numbers as he shows flashes of brilliance that have been marred with periods of inconsistent play. While it's difficult to bid adieu to a player who has been with the club for a decade at the NHL level, that's the business of sports and the NHL in today's reality.

However, Ondrej Pavelec, in my view, should not take this as a demotion or a setback. He's a professional when it comes to his job, and I have a feeling that he's prepared to head down to the AHL and do whatever may be necessary to keep his name on the Jets' radar. If he goes down to Manitoba and plays well in his starts to post some decent numbers, he'll be recalled by the Jets if there's an injury to Hellebuyck or Hutchinson. If he goes down to Manitoba and does all of that and acts professionally while helping Comrie elevate his game, I suspect that the Jets will do whatever they can to help him find a home before the end of the season. Character says a lot about a person, and Ondrej Pavelec has never been one to whine, bitch, and moan when it comes to his situation.

We always talk about the good guys in sports who deserve better. Ondrej Pavelec's career in Winnipeg is turning out to be one of those stories where had his numbers been a little better and had the Jets not drafted two blue-chip goalies in Hellebuyck and Comrie, the ending to this story could be much different. The NHL is as much a business as it is a game, though, and winning matters. Winning puts butts in seats, winning gets you home playoff dates, and winning attracts more fans. In all three of those cases, the bottom line usually sees a healthy return thereby justifying the business side of the game more than the loyalty side. That's the reality of pro sports in today's world.

Sometimes, sports can be cruel to guys needing a break. Ondrej Pavelec needed that break this season to really show future employers that he can post NHL-quality numbers. Instead, teams will take a chance on his character as he'll most likely be a backup for his next contract. That's not to say that he can't still win a starting job, but his work in the AHL will need to turn some heads if he hopes to continue his NHL career.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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