The Winnipeg Jets played in their 40th – yes you read that correctly – their 40th one goal game of the season albeit losing this one in the end. I’ll be the first to say it – the loss last night has pretty much crushed any playoff hopes the team may have had. They are now 6 points out of eighth place with 10 games remaining and the teams ahead of them (minus Vancouver), all have games in hand. I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about our goaltending situation from other Jet fans and I thought there is no better time to address the issue than now. Simply, odds are we are not going to make the playoffs and with the Jets playing in so many one goal games, it could be suggested that they are close to turning the corner yet lack an integral portion of a “playoff” roster.
For the elite teams in the NHL, goaltending will steal you games here and there. Ask the Colorado Avalanche, who have had superb goaltending from Semyon Varlamov all season – they sit where they do in the standings with his play being key in that success. The Jets haven’t had that luxury. Let’s look at Pavelec’s numbers for the year. His record stands at 20-24-6, ranking him 20th in the NHL in wins, and 1st in losses. His save percentage sits at a lowly .902 and he’s currently working with a 2.97 GAA. For those Jet fans saying that he’s having an off year – he’s not. His career numbers suggest that he’s playing relatively close to his “average” production. Career numbers for Ondrej Pavelec are a record of 111-123-34 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.97 GAA. It’s unfortunate to say about our number one goalie, but over the duration of his career to date he’s never been a .500 goalie and he’s never been the sole reason for an above average year. I understand that it’s a significant amount of pressure to put on a goalie on a subpar team, especially playing the amount of games that he does. But this is a business, and we aren’t winning over an 82 game stretch.
Adversely, the Chicago, IL native Montoya has never had the luxury of showing what he can do over the course of a full regular season. Not with consistent starts in the way Pavelec has gotten. Montoya was drafted 6th overall in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Right behind Blake Wheeler. Unfortunately for Al, he was drafted by the Rangers and turned pro in the same year as Henrik Lundqvist. Good luck cracking the line-up there. After never playing one game as a New York Ranger, he was shipped to Phoenix with limited playing time and then to Long Island for a similar situation. Finally he’s settled in Winnipeg with the most playing time he’s ever had coming this year. He’s posted a 12-7-3 record (8 wins shy of Pavelec with roughly 60% less playing time). His save percentage sits at a respectable .921 with a 2.30 GAA – significantly lower than our starter’s. Good year for Montoya, eh? Not really. He’s quietly built a reputation as a solid back up who gives you a chance in every single start. His career numbers sit at 36-25-13 with a .910 save percentage and 2.64 GAA.
The intriguing aspect to all these statistics for me personally is the trends. Although Montoya (29) is 3 years older than Pavelec (26), Montoya based on his career and current season totals is trending in a positive direction. Montoya said himself in an interview with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press that he feels he’s a better goalie now than at any other point in his 10 year pro career. Contrasting that statement, Pavelec hasn’t trended in any way at all. He hasn’t progressed, or regressed in either direction. He’s played starting goaltender games, and had all the coaching and opportunity to become an elite goaltender. It just hasn’t happened. He’s heading into his prime as a goaltender in the NHL, and as the Jets starter I think it could be cause for concern. The numbers speak for themselves.
The Jets have Michael Hutchinson waiting in St. John’s to come up and compete. With other areas of our roster becoming more solid every year – there is less to address. The goaltending is an area I feel has been overlooked.
There will be some arguments about, “Pavelec is still the best we have” and that may be true even over a 60 game stretch. But my counter to that would be, not by very much. He holds trade value, and we haven’t made the playoffs with him as our starter. Sports is a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of business and unfortunately for Pavelec the answer is – nothing.
Montoya is a UFA at season’s end and no doubt will be requiring a raise. I personally hope the Jets give it to him, and we continue to see more of Monty. Let the debate begin.