It can be argued Ondrej Pavelec got the Winnipeg Jets to where they are right now. However, at the end of the day, ninth place is not where anyone wants to be.
Pavelec certainly didn't hold the Jets back this season, but until this team becomes more defensively reliable, he'll have to do more or the playoffs will continue to be the talk of fantasy.
Pavelec is a capable goalie but the fact remains this team is once again on the wrong side of the goals-for and goals-against line. The Jets have scored 109 goals while allowing 123 for a minus-14 differential. All eight teams ahead of Winnipeg in the Eastern Conference are plus teams in the same category.
Lumping all of that on Pavelec would be ridiculous.
In fact, the opposite is true. Without Pavelec, that number would be much worse.
But the goalie must accept his part. It's the reality of the position.
One night after a Jets road game this season in which Pavelec had been particularly sharp, I made a positive comment to Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger about the performance.
"That's his job," was all Heisinger could squeeze out.
It's true. No team in the NHL will be successful without top-end goaltending. It's the expectation. Not to steal games but to keep a team in position to win.
Letting in three or four a night, as has happened a little too often to the Jets this season, doesn't equate to wins. In 12 losses this season, Pavelec allowed four or more goals. Again, he faced an onslaught of shots in those games and he's only the last line of defence.
The players in front of him need to be better. But so does Pavelec.
It's been said of Pavelec, as he goes so do the Jets. Well, his record is 21-19-3 and that doesn't appear to be good enough to get Winnipeg into the playoffs.
Imagining the Jets without Pavelec doesn't leave one with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
"Goaltending is 70 per cent of hockey. Until you have none and then it's 100 per cent," goes the old NHL axiom.
Until GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and coach Claude Noel can improve the players and the play in front of Pavelec, he's going to need to be other-worldly.
The question is, can he raise his level enough to push the Jets over the line?
From this vantage point, Pavelec gets a B for his performance this season. The Jets will need him to be an A if they are going to become more than an outsider come playoff time.
Pavelec is 37th in the league with a 2.77 goals- against average and he's 33rd in the league with a .906 save percentage. He's been ordinary at best in shootouts, earning two wins against three losses while allowing six goals on 21 shots with a .714 save percentage.
Those numbers, however, tell just one part of the story. Pavelec has faced 1,221 shots, second only to Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres.
Pavelec has been peppered all season and certainly that plays a part in his poor numbers.
"His numbers aren't great... I would beg to differ on that. I don't go by the numbers. I know the save percentage and number of chances and all that but I don't go by that," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "He's still a young player in a good part of his career and I look at him from one year to the other and I see growth. The ceiling isn't there and you still have room to grow. That's what encourages me. I see a marked improvement from him in a lot of areas. If you ask me, 'Is he doing his part?' I would say over and above. I'm a big fan. If you ask me today, 'Could the Winnipeg Jets win a championship with him in nets?' I would say, 'Yes.' "
Noel's job relies on Pavelec's ability to stop the puck so it stands to reason he'd use a critical eye when judging his goalie.
This wasn't Noel protecting one of his players. This was the coach sticking his neck out to support him. There's a big difference.
The Jets want to be a playoff team and to do that they'll need a playoff goalie. Pavelec has shown lots but he hasn't shown that. Neither has the rest of the roster but Pavelec is no different.
Pavelec is one year into a five-year contract with the Jets at a reasonable rate that tops out at $4.75 million in the last year of the deal.
It's not a stretch to suggest he'll be a bargain by the end of the contract.
But a bargain is only a good deal if the product fulfills one's needs.
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