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Ondrej Pavelec on Waivers; Winnipeg Finally Moving On?

Did Ondrej Pavelec ? (InGoal file photo by Clint Trahan)

Did Ondrej Pavelec ? (InGoal file photo by Clint Trahan)

The Winnipeg Jets finally appear ready to move on from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec after placing the 29-year-old veteran on waivers Monday with the intent on sending him to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

While much of the focus is on Pavelec’s statistical struggles over the years, the reality is this move may have as much to do with not exposing top prospect Connor Hellebuyck to Las Vegas in the expansion draft next summer as it does with choosing Michael Hutchinson over Pavelec to play alongside Helleybuyck as the presumed new No.1 this season.

While the Jets could have sent Hellebuyck to the AHL without needing to clear waivers, that wasn’t the case with Hutchinson, who signed a two-year contract extension in June worth $1.15 million per season. If the Jets demoted Hutchinson and lost him to a waiver claim, Hellebuyck would have been the only goalie left that satisfied the expansion draft criteria because Pavelec becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer and prospect Eric Comrie is going into his second professional season. Because every team must expose a goaltender, that would have been Hellebuyck, who posted a .918 save percentage in his first 26 NHL games last season.

Hellebuyck and Comrie represent the future for the Jets but there was still some thought the Jets might leave both in the AHL in favor of Hutchinson, a 26-year-old with a .912 save percentage over three NHL seasons, and Pavelec, who is going into the final season of a five-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.9 million.

Pavelec was 13-13-3 last season with a .904 save percentage, and outside of posting a .920 save percentage in 2014-15 has consistently been below league average during a nine-season career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise that drafted him 41st in 2005.

With a .907 career save percentage, Pavelec has become a lightning rod for criticism behind a team that has also struggled for consistency. For years he played an overaggressive positional game that left him overly reliant on raw skill and good reads, traits that typically leave that style of goaltender more prone to the ups and downs reflected in Pavelec’s career .460 quality start percentage, according to HockeyReference.com. Attempts by goalie coach Wade Flaherty to reel in Pavelec’s positioning appeared to play a role in his .920 save percentage two seasons ago, but he still posted a .480 quality start percentage over the past two seasons combined.

Despite enough evidence Pavelec is not a No.1 NHL goaltender, his play over the past couple seasons at least begs the question whether Hutchinson, 22, is a significant upgrade:

From a style perspective, Pavelec’s reliance on rhythm appears less suited for a backup role than Hutchinson, who is more conservative positionally and is used to to playing less frequently. In the long term, it’s worth wondering if Pavelec’s style could keep him from earning another NHL contract after this season, especially if other teams don’t see him as a viable backup option despite notable skill and occasional signs of starter upside.

For now it seems clear the future in Winnipeg remains Hellebuyck and Comrie, who may yet be their top stopper. One goalie coach outside the organization told InGoal Magazine this summer Comrie would be the best goalie along the ice right now in the NHL.

Whatever the long-term future holds for the Jets crease, with Pavelec on waivers it appears the franchise is ready to move towards it one season sooner than many expected.

MORE WAIVERS

Pavelec wasn’t the only notable goaltending name placed on waivers Monday.

Montreal also placed Mike Condon on waivers after signing veteran free agent Al Montoya in the summer to back up Carey Price this season. Condon posted an impressive .921 save percentage in the AHL two seasons ago and earned the backup job last season with strong early performances before being thrown into the deep end after Price was hurt in late November. He finished the season with a 21-25-3 record and .903 save percentage for the Canadiens.

Minnesota also placed Alex Stalock, whose active, often acrobatic style is reminiscent of Pavelec and may be equally ill-suited to a back up role, on waivers after he failed to hold down a job behind Martin Jones in San Jose last season.

New Jersey may have taken the biggest risk putting Scott Wedgewood on waivers Monday. Despite a short stint in the ECHL last season, the 24-year-old appeared find something in his first season with new AHL goalie coach Scott Clemmenson, posting a .933 save percentage in 22 AHL games and a .957 save percentage during a four-game call up to the NHL. It’s hard to see other teams claiming Wedgewood because they’d have to keep him in the NHL, but he seems to have re-established himself as an NHL option after three sub-par seasons to start his career.

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