Monday, 24 July 2017

Backup Money

The Winnipeg Jets completed their off-season moves today by signing goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to a new deal before their arbitration date on August 1. Hellebuyck's contract is a one-year deal with $2.25 million, and the Jets' "goalie of the future" knows he needs a big season if there's any hope of him being a fixture in the blue paint in Winnipeg for years to come. With Steve Mason getting nearly twice that for the next two seasons, this contract is a curious one since it neither guarantees Hellebuyck will be here long-term nor does it pay him like a starting netminder in the NHL. I'm struggling with the end goal of this deal if it's not to allow Hellebuyck to prove he's worth Steve Mason money because it seems like he'll be playing behind Mason on most nights.

I'll give Hellebuyck credit in that he said all the right things to the media today, indicating how hungry he is to prove that he belongs in the conversation among the NHL's upper echelon of netminders.

"It's all on the line," the 24-year-old told reporters. "I learned a lot, got a whole lot better, but I have a whole lot more to give. I got more to offer than what I showed last year. I look forward to doing that this year. I'm going to have Mason here and I'm going to learn from him. I owe these guys my best every night."

Look, I appreciate Connor Hellebuyck's commitment to becoming and desire to be the best goaltender he can be. Honestly, that's all you can ask of a player, and the rest really is up to him or her to do whatever is necessary to become the best player he or she can be. But if one were presented with the following stats lines, which goaltender would you say is better after one full season as a starting netminder in the NHL?
I'm not going to reveal who those two stats lines belong to just yet because I want to remind everyone that Connor Hellebuyck's tenure as a starting NHL goalie is one full year. He took over for Ondrej Pavelec whose time in Winnipeg was worn woefully thin due to poor play, and Hellebuyck's inconsistent play gave his detractors enough ammunition to cause the Jets to seek help in the form of Steve Mason. That's not to say that he isn't ready, but maybe he needs someone more reliable than Michael Hutchinson who shoulder some of the load as Hellebuyck grows as a player and netminder.

The stats lines from above? The top one is from Carey Price in his first full season as a starter in the NHL. The second is from Connor Hellebuyck who, as we know, has just completed one full season as a starter. The two stats lines are nearly identical in all major categories: minutes player, goals against, goals-against average, and save percentage. One stat that isn't shown is points percentage - the number of points earned through wins and shootout losses - is also nearly identical with Price having a .538 pts% stat and Hellebuyck having a .500 pts% stat. Does that mean that Connor Hellebuyck is on the same path that Carey Price is in terms of being the best of the best who stops pucks? Not necessarily, but the similarities are there in that Price took a backseat at times to Jaroslav Halak in the season following his first full season as a starter just as Hellebuyck may take a backseat to Mason at times.

What it does mean is that Hellebuyck isn't carrying the load full-time because the coaching staff doesn't have faith in the backup netminder to spell off the starter and earn a win. Hellebuyck is more than capable of winning games most nights, so having a tandem that includes both Mason and Hellebuyck working together should benefit Hellebuyck's overall game.

“I view it as a good thing," Hellebuyck said when asked of Mason joining the team. "It's good for the team and it's going to bring the team some confidence in the net. I'm going to learn from him. He's a veteran guy who's been through the ropes. I'm going to take what I can from him. And you know what? It's going to push us both as goalies."

If the Jets are going to be successful against a number of improved Central Division teams and the rest of the NHL, they'll need high-quality goaltending from both netminders on the roster. If, for some reason, Mason stumbles or is injured, the Jets still have a very capable starter playing behind him. Hellebuyck has a new agent and strength coach this summer, and he feels the changes he's made to his game should benefit his this season. It's still going to be all up to him to put it together, but he's now playing for a contract.

If he plays as well as we've seen him play in some games with extended consistency, he could be looking at a very nice pay day next season when his contract needs to be renewed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: