Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pavelec gets five-year deal, must now bump up game

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The numbers on Ondrej Pavelec's spiffy new contract will be a hot topic in a business that is all about cap hits, salary ceilings and floors.

But while Winnipeg Jets faithful dissect the new deal -- a five-year, $19.5-million pact made official Monday -- the bigger question might be this:

Can the 24-year-old Czech morph into a Vezina-calibre goaltender?

"I believe he is one of the best young goaltenders in the game right now," said Jets' GM Kevin Cheveldayoff from Hilton Head, S.C. where he is attending American Hockey League meetings. "He's someone that at the minor-league level won a championship and has come in and earned his opportunity to become a No. 1 goaltender at the National Hockey League level. We believe he's going to continue that trend in an upward fashion.

"As we grow as a team, we expect Ondrej to grow."

All that said, some have argued that evidence of Pavelec's potential star power is more anecdotal right now -- one highlight reel save after another -- than what appears in the black and white of the NHL stats.

Yes, he is coming off a year in which he finished fifth in the league in games played (68), shots against (2,036) and saves (1,845). And while an informal poll of the Jets locker-room last winter had Pavelec as the team's unquestioned MVP, his numbers -- a 29-28-9 record, 2.91 goals against average and .906 save percentage -- don't exactly jump off the page like some of his NHL counterparts.

All of this is reflected, in part, in a contract that will pay him $3.25 million next season to $4.75 million in the final year. The Jets will pay Pavelec less than the $4 million he had been rumoured to be seeking early in the contract -- the first three years will see him earn $3.25 million, $3.5 million and $3.75 million -- while the 24-year-old native of Kladno lands security and dollars in the final two seasons at $4.25 million and $4.75 million.

"That's something I was looking for -- a long-term deal," said Pavelec on a conference call from his off-season home in the Czech Republic. "It was easy to sign a five-year deal and stay in a city you like. They have great fans there and I always said I like Winnipeg. It's behind me now and I'm just looking forward to success in Winnipeg.

 

"I always believed we could make a deal. I'm really happy. I want to win and I want to be successful and I really believe my teammates and the organization are going in a good direction."

Pavelec said he did have an offer from a KHL team and that it was for "really-good money" but it's his desire to remain with the Jets and continue working on his game.

"This is a point I always wanted to be at: To be the No. 1 goalie in the city and try to be the best goalie in the NHL," said Pavelec. "That's my goal."

The Pavelec signing soothes some serious concerns about the Jets' goaltending heading into the free-agent market, which opens on Canada Day. Chris Mason, the team's No. 2 netminder last year, becomes an unrestricted free agent on the weekend as does Jonas Gustavsson -- acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.

The Jets also made qualifying offers to the following restricted free agents prior to Monday's 4 p.m. deadline: Evander Kane, Spencer Machacek, Brett Festerling, Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda. The offers means the Jets retain the rights to the players and can continue negotiations and/or match any offer from another NHL team. The team did not make qualifying offers to Kenndal McArdle, John Negrin, Fredrik Petterson and Mike Forney, making them unrestricted free agents.

Clearly, the top priority among that crew is Kane, who led the Jets with 30 goals last season.

"There's a lots of work behind the scenes that is happening with Evander's representatives, but other (player) representatives as well," said Cheveldayoff.

Cheveldayoff also said the fact Eric Fehr was not made a qualifying offer does not completely rule him out of the team's plans. "We made a decision we weren't going to offer the player what (he) made last year ($2.2 million)," said Cheveldayoff. "That's not to say Eric Fehr is not someone we are considering with respect to our organization. We met with his representative and told him the same. He will become an unrestricted free agent, but... he's not someone that will be ruled out of the equation."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

The Ondrej Pavelec file

Born: Aug. 31, 1987, Kladno, Czech Republic

Height: 6-3. Weight: 220

Drafted: 2nd round (41st overall) in the 2005 NHL entry draft by the Atlanta Thrashers

2011-12 numbers: 29-28-9 W-L-T; 2.91 GAA; .906 save percentage; 4 shutouts

Career NHL numbers: 70-79-25 W-L-T; 2.99 GAA; .907 save percentage; 10 shutouts

INTERNATIONAL CAREER: Won a gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Championships and was a member of the 2010 Czech Republic Olympic Team ... Appeared in the 2007 World Junior Championships ... Helped the Czech Republic to fourth place at the 2005 World Under-18 Championships

Notable: Pavelec's $3.25 million salary in 2012-13 is currently the 16th highest (pending free agency).

 

The Top 5 goalies, by salary:

1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville, $7 million

2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers, $6.875 million

3. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver, $6.714 million

4. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia, $6.5 million

5. Cam Ward, Carolina, $6.4 million

 

--Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2012 D1

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