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Winnipeg Jets’ Goalie Situation: Who Will Backup Connor Hellebuyck Next Season?

Here’s what we know about the Winnipeg Jets’ goalie situation. Although Carey Price was voted to be the best goalie in the NHL by his peers in the NHLPA’s most recent poll, Connor Hellebuyck will likely win the Vezina Trophy – or at least he’s the odds-on favorite to do so. Reading recently about Hellebuyck’s contribution to the Jets team, I read a hockey pundit somewhere who called the Jets an average team with a great goalie.

Perhaps that’s overstating the situation because any team with players like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Nikolaj Ehlers on it can’t be bad, there’s much truth to the belief that the one player the team would miss the most would be its heavily-worked goalie. In fact, the 2019-20 season was tough at times for the Jets, but Hellebuyck’s play was probably the biggest reason the team was still contending when the NHL suspended its season on March 12. His record was a strong 31-21-5 record, with a goals-against-average of 2.57, and .922 save percentage in 58 games played.

Related: TSN’s Winnipeg Jets All-Time Team Throughout Its History

Do the Jets Need a New Backup?

Because Hellebuyck is only 26-years-old, his window as an elite performer seems far from over. He will not, unless there’s something tragic happens or he pulls a Dustin Byfuglien, relinquish his job in net anytime soon. However, this season’s backup goalie Laurent Brossoit will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2019-20 season is completed – whenever that might be. (from “Backup goalie targets for the Jets in free agency or trade,” Ken Wiebe, The Athletic, 12/05/20)

So, during the upcoming offseason, there’s an expectation that the Jets will sign a goalie to be or to compete for the backup job behind Hellebuyck. That job, for the last two seasons, has been Laurent Brossoit’s; and, in my perspective, he’s done better than I expected he would. I remember him from his time with the Edmonton Oilers and – perhaps he didn’t get much of a chance – but he played so sporadically that he seemed all but non-existent. He played 27 games over a four-season span and simply didn’t stand out.

However, two seasons ago (2018-19) Brossoit had a strong season with a 13-6-2 record and a goals-against-average of 2.52, with a 0.925 save percentage. Just looking at the numbers, that season’s save percentage was higher than Hellebuyck has ever recorded (but that’s quibbling with numbers really because, during Hellebuyck’s great 2017-18 season, he had a record of 44-11-9 with a goals-against-average of 2.36 and a 0.924 save percentage. And that was in a much heavier workload.

Where Else Might the Jets Be Looking?

So, it isn’t as if Brossoit has done poorly and it seems he has the ability or potential. He also comes cheaply enough, signing a $1.225 million contract the season after his numbers were great. His slippage in 2019-20, where his record was 6-7-1 in 19 games with a save percentage of 0.895, and because the COVID-19 situation has caused the cancelation of regular-season games with a corresponding loss of revenue and a second corresponding downward movement on the NHL salary cap – which is a bad omen for UFAs – it isn’t likely players like Brossoit can expect much of a raise, if any, when they sign their next contracts.

Still, Wiebe suggests the Jets might be seeking other backup goaltending options for the team next season. Although I’m not inclined to disagree with Wiebe’s suggestion and think Brossoit’s a good-enough backup, let’s consider his idea and thoughts.

As Wiebe lays it out, he doesn’t believe Brossoit would be seen by another team as a starting goalie. I agree. However, because Hellebuyck is planted firmly in the Winnipeg nets, Brossoit might want to find a team where he might have a better chance to start.

The Jets have another young goalie – Eric Comrie – signed to a one-way deal, but the 24-year-old Comrie (who’s the son of the Brick’s founder Bill Comrie and half-brother of former NHL player Mike Comrie) has kicked around for a number of seasons and shows nothing that would lead Jets’ hockey fans to believe he’d be better than Brossoit. Mikhail Berdin, a 22-year-old goalie prospect, is doing well with the Manitoba Moose but probably needs another season in the minors before he’s ready to be productive in the NHL.

Wiebe then lists trade targets such as Jake Allen (with a one-year term left at $4.35 million) and Devan Dubnyk (another year left at $4.33 million cap hit – $2.5 million salary). As well, there are pending free agents such as Thomas Greiss, Aaron Dell, Jean-Francois Berube, and even the Toronto Marlies Kasimir Kaskisuo. But none of these players seems to outshine Brossoit to me.

Wiebe even suggests that Cory Schneider, who’s signed at $6 million per season for two more years, is a long shot. But Schneider has been splitting time between the New Jersey Devils and their Binghamton AHL affiliate and seems like a “Huh?” to me.

Related: Ex-Winnipeg Jets’ Dale Hawerchuk Says No Hockey

So, in the End?

Unless I’m missing something – and I admit to not being privy to the Jets’ thinking – I can’t see any movement to change backup goalies on the part of the Jets for this coming season. Perhaps Brossoit thinks differently and, should that be the case, then Wiebe’s analysis becomes more important.

Assuming the team can resign Brossoit to a salary-cap-friendly contract, which from my perspective seems reasonable, I think he’ll re-sign another single-season contract – probably at the same money (or less) he made this past season. It seems to me the kind of offseason where UFAs will simply hope for any kind of a salary and hope the circumstances improve for 2021-22.

Really, because the backup goalie situation in Winnipeg isn’t much of an issue when you have Hellebuyck playing so many games and playing them so well, you might just have former Zamboni driver David Ayres, who served as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ emergency goalie last season, as the team’s backup. In my mind, when something is needed so little, there’s probably no reason to change.

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