Finding a reliable veteran goaltender will be a main focus for the Winnipeg Jets during the 2017 offseason.
With Ondřej Pavelec hitting the free agent market this year, the Jets are left with Connor Hellebuyck , Michael Hutchinson , and Manitoba Moose starter Eric Comrie at the goalie position.
Hutchinson has been given numerous opportunities to take control of the Jets’ crease but never took advantage of his chances. He gave up an average of 2.92 goals a game and posted a low .903 save percentage throughout his 28 games played in the 2016-17 season.
On the other hand, Hellebuyck started the majority of the games in goal for the Jets this past season, posting an only moderately better 2.89 goals against average and a .907 save percentage in 56 games. Winnipeg also has the 21-year-old Comrie, who has consistently performed well for the Jets’ AHL affiliate team over the past two seasons. Comrie got his first and only NHL start in 2016-17, where he allowed four goals, but showed promise by making key saves to help the Jets win the game .
With the youth and potential of Hellebuyck and Comrie, Winnipeg needs a veteran goalie that can hold down the crease for the next couple of seasons and help develop their young back-stoppers into future NHL starters. Below are some of the goalies the Jets should make a priority of targeting.
Marc-André Fluery , Pittsburgh Penguins
With the expansion draft looming the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves with two capable starting goaltenders. Last season, Matt Murray took over starting duties, which left veteran goalie Marc-André Fleury out in the cold. While Murray led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2016, Fleury got his shot to prove he could still play with Murray suffering an injury at the beginning of the 2017 NHL playoffs. Fleury started the first 15 games for the Penguins this postseason, winning nine games, with a 2.56 goals against average, and a .924 save percentage before Murray took over the net once again.
Fleury was one of the main factors in the Penguins advancing through the first two rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, but it is clear that Murray is the future in Pittsburgh and that Fleury needs to find a new home. Fleury has two years remaining on his contract, which would allow the young Jets goalies to learn under the veteran and eventually take over, just as Murray did in Pittsburgh.
Winnipeg has a lot of talent up front and may be a stable goalie away from winning their first playoff game since the team came over from Atlanta. A trade for Fleury would make sense for both the Jets and Penguins, as Winnipeg would get their goalie and the Penguins would get return for Fleury instead of losing him for nothing to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.
Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
Recently, Mike Smith submitted a list of eight teams he would not accept a trade to, so assuming that Winnipeg is not on Smith’s list, he would be an ideal fit for the next couple of seasons.
The 35-year-old also has two years remaining on his current contract and is coming off a season where he was named to the NHL All-Star Game . In 55 games last season, Smith had a .914 save percentage and allowed an average of 2.92 goals against . His numbers weren’t out of this world, but neither are the Coyotes a stellar team. Smith posting average numbers on a team like Arizona’s is impressive and it isn’t hard to believe that he could contribute more to a young team like the Jets.
Brian Elliot, Calgary Flames
Brian Elliott was acquired by the Calgary Flames last off-season, but he inevitably played his way out of the starting gig. In 49 games Elliott had a .910 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average .
The 32-year-old is still a capable starter if the right team takes a gamble on him. Elliott was a force in the 2015-16 season for the St. Louis Blues with a 2.07 goals against average and contributing a stellar .930 save percentage in 42 games . If Elliott can return to the goalie that he was in St. Louis, he would be a perfect fit for the Jets short-term future.
Other options that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can look at are veterans Ryan Miller and Cam Ward . Both have struggled to find a home on their current teams – in Vancouver and Carolina, respectively – but could boost the experience the Jets are looking for to develop their youth.
A move like this would be a high-risk, high-reward wager if the Jets are willing to roll the dice. If nothing falls into place during the offseason, Winnipeg can ride their young goaltenders for yet another year.