Jets ‘D’ has to give Helly more help


Advertise with us

Connor Hellebuyck's all-world goaltending masked many of the Winnipeg Jets' defensive stains the last two NHL seasons.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/09/2021 (549 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Connor Hellebuyck’s all-world goaltending masked many of the Winnipeg Jets’ defensive stains the last two NHL seasons.

His colleagues have acknowledged their shortcomings and are eager to remedy the situation.

“We know how fortunate we are to have a goalie like Connor in the room. To win in this league you have to play solid defence. You can’t give up a lot of chances. The last couple of years, we’ve lived by the sword. We’d trade chances and we’d give up a lot,” centre Adam Lowry said Tuesday.

“Shot quality is one thing you want to look at and where you give up the shots, and try to eliminate those chances while increasing the ability for us to get the puck to the net from good areas, dangerous areas… To win in this league you keep the top players out of the middle of the ice, let your goalie see the puck, and eliminate as many of those opportunities as you can.”

By most underlying metrics, the Jets were far removed from the upper-echelon squads in the league, not just during the abbreviated 2021 season but also through the 2019-20 campaign.

Their 28-year-old Michigan-born netminder, meanwhile, was simply spectacular.

Hellebuyck was lauded by the league for a 2019-20 season, earning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie, and was in the conversation again as Winnipeg faced only Canadian rivals last season.

The Jets were firmly in the bottom third (at 5-on-5) in terms of puck possession, high-danger-chances allowed and overall shots allowed in the 56-game season. Yet, Hellebuyck carried the burden and almost single-handedly kept his club relevant in the race for a playoff spot.

“Certainly, there were a lot of nights like that, especially when you put a stretch of two, three, four or five games together that you give up a lot of Grade A chances,” said defenceman Neal Pionk. “Obviously, you’re going to have nights where a team outplays you, they outchance you. Over 82 games, that’s going to happen. The key is you can’t have (those stretches), so we have to break that chain and be able to limit those chances.”

In a league-high 45 stats, Hellebuyck faced the most shots (1,335) and blocked the most shots (1,223). His save percentage of .916 was seventh-best and his goals-against average of 2.58 was eighth, among all goalies with at least 30 starts.

The elite puckstopper was, is and will be the Central Division team’s uncontested most valuable player.

“Hopefully this year with some of the additions, some of the changes we’re making, and some of the ideas getting passed along that maybe we cut down on those things. Maybe we make Connor’s job a little easier,” said Lowry.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made a pair of significant moves in late July to shore up the blue line, acquiring Brenden Dillon from the Washington Capitals for second-round picks in both 2022 and 2023, and then trading a third-round pick in ’22 to the Vancouver Canucks for defenceman Nate Schmidt.

Dillon adds size, grit and stability in Winnipeg territory, while Schmidt is an above-average puck mover who needs to bounce back from a season of struggling with Vancouver.

Heading out the door were undistinguished rear-guards Derek Forbort (Boston Bruins) and Tucker Poolman (Canucks).

Schmidt said the new mix on defence continues to get acquainted but acknowledged he’s very optimistic.

“If you look at this group of defencemen, we’ve got a lot of guys that can play a lot of different styles, which is really fun to see. You’ve got a lot of guys that can move the puck and even the bigger guys can move the puck and they move well. Coach says we don’t have any slugs back there,” he said. “You look at this team and you look at the offensive firepower we have, when you play against this group, you look at that and now you start adding a little more of a dynamic to your back end, I think that adds another element to your group.

“You look at the most successful teams the last couple of years, they always have that type of skating, mobile defence that can always move, always be a threat and that’s kind of what I envision for our group this year.”

He’s been paired with Josh Morrissey, whose standard of play dropped off last during battles in the all-Canadian division. Schmidt, though, is already a major fan.

“Man, peeling back the layers of this Josh Morrissey is a treat of mine coming in. It’s fun for me. I really enjoy it. Just getting to know him and the rest of our group as well, just trying to create a lot of chemistry between him and I …each guy has some tendencies and Josh has as well and we’re just trying to mesh those two together to create one pair,” said the gregarious veteran. “So far? I talk a lot. He listens a lot.”

Dillon has been partnered with Pionk while Dylan DeMelo has played alongside Logan Stanley.

Improvements to personnel and a sound defensive structure won’t automatically generate results, Pionk noted.

“It’s the mindset. It’s the commitment. You can draw up all the Xs and Os you want, trade for whatever guys you want, sign whatever guys you want, but it’s the mindset, the commitment that the team has to have — not only the defencemen but all five guys on the ice,” he said.

“Of course, every team is going to get Grade A chances, that’s just the way it is. We’re playing against good players. But at the end of the day, we know we have to limit those chances to have more success.”

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).


Updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 10:09 PM CDT: Minor wording change.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Winnipeg Jets