When you look at the Winnipeg Jets roster, you see a lot of young, core players that are expected to carry the Jets into the playoffs.
Arguably the most important position that every team needs to play well, at least if they want to make it to the playoffs, is the goalie. Are the Jets sure they have a franchise netminder?
The more I look at the Jets goaltender situation, the more I start to doubt whether or not Ondrej Pavelec is the franchise goalie for the Jets.
Two years. That’s my timetable for Pavelec to improve his performance.
This year will be a key year for Pavelec. He has to give the fans some hope, something to be happy about going forward. Certainly, making the playoffs would achieve that, but at the least, Pavelec has to have a much better year than his past two.
Pavelec has four years left on his contract so my two-year timetable doesn't seem too harsh.
His best statistical season came in 2010-11, the final year of the Atlanta Thrashers existence. He put up a 2.73 GAA and a 9.14 SV%. That’s not too shabby. However, he hasn’t come close to those numbers since.
Since the transition to Winnipeg, Pavelec put up a 2.91 GAA and a 9.06 SV% in his first season, and a 2.80 GAA with a 9.05 SV% last season. He was the 32nd ranked goalie in both of those categories. The Jets probably would have made the playoffs last year, if they had an average goalie in net.
Sadly, someone ranking even in the top 30 of those two categories would have been good enough.
Pavelec has had his highs and lows. There are times when he looks like a top 10 goalie in the league and times when he looks like a career backup. Overall, Pavelec has been a below average goalie at the NHL level. Maybe there’s a reason behind it.
By no means is Pavelec incapable of performing at a high level. He's done it before and will do it again. The major problem for him is doing it consistently over the course of an entire season. The Jets aren't asking him to be a clone of Martin Brodeur, but he has to be better than what he is now.
For Pavelec, it starts with consistency. He's a very streaky goalie.
Pavelec will turn 26 at the end of August which is still very young for a starting goalie.
Is there a reason to believe he’ll turn the corner and help the Jets into the playoffs? Sure, he's a very capable goalie.
He just has to put it all together night in and night out. He has a lot of time to improve, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.
A lot of people will give Pavelec the benefit of the doubt and say he doesn’t play in a goaltender-friendly system, or that he hasn’t had the defensive support in front of him. Maybe it’s as simple as experience, something Pavelec is still gaining.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Pavelec started his first NHL game when he was 20 years old (2007-08). He started splitting time when he was 22, but started roughly 50% of the games (2009-10).
He still wasn’t “the guy” at age 23, but started about 65% of the games and had the best year of his career (2010-11). At ages 24 and 25 was when he transitioned to Winnipeg and started to slip (2011-12 and 2012-13). But he’s been “the guy” ever since the move to Winnipeg.
The point I’m trying to make here is that Pavelec has really only been a starter for three and a half years.
To put it in perspective, Carey Price, starting goalie for the Montreal Canadians, is just 15 days older than Pavelec. Both were drafted in 2005. Price has started in 301 career NHL games while Pavelec started in only 220. That’s 81 more games of experience.
Two years is enough to evaluate Pavelec’s play. I’m not indicating that after two years Pavelec will be cut or traded if he doesn’t perform well. I think Pavelec finishes out his current contract a Jet.
However, his performance during those years will indicate whether or not he’s the future or if he’ll get re-signed. We’ll begin to know that after two years.
There's hope for Pavelec yet, but he has to give us hope as well. This upcoming season will be a defining one for Pavelec.