Jets are heck of a team even with a struggling No. 1 goaltender


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2018 (1644 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Steve Lyons: Hello there. How’s it going? Hope retirement is treating you well. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve chatted. I had a vacation and went to the west coast — man, it’s nice there — and well, you’re now on a permanent vacation haha

How’s the couch?

So, I was in the boss’s office the other day chatting about the Jets — we do that — and he quoted you! Something along the lines of this: as Wiecek would say over and over again — the Jets fortunes seemed to be tied to the success of Connor Hellebuyck.

You and I had more than one or two discussions about Hellebuyck over the last couple of years. I’m not sure one player — even a goalie — will make or break a team. I also tend to think the team’s defensive system and the players execution of that system can make a goalie look good or bad as well.

But, you’ve been insistent that Hellebuyck’s play will determine the fate of this team — how you feeling about his play and the effect its had on the team this year? I mean, he has not been great but the Jets are still sixth overall in the NHL with a 17-8-2 record heading into Friday’s game vs the Blues.


Paul Wiecek: A guy could get used to this retirement thing, but all this time on my hands has definitely been an adjustment. Too much downtime has led to too much snacking, so I bought a pool table this week to give me something else to do with my hands other than stuffing my face.

We’ll see if that works. One way or the other, I’m going to be Manitoba Fats by New Year’s.

Funny you’d bring up Hellebuyck. I was looking at his lousy numbers this week and thinking that maybe I was wrong about the whole, ‘As Hellebuyck goes, so go the Jets’ thing. If you’d told me at the start of the season that we’d be a week into December and Hellebuyck would have a brutal .904 save percentage and bloated 2.97 goals against average, I’d have figured the Jets would be playing something like .500 hockey right now. Instead, as you point out they’re 17-8-2 and third in the Western Conference, with a game in hand on the only two teams ahead of them, Colorado and Nashville.

All of which leads me to write a sentence I never thought I’d compose — The Winnipeg Jets are winning despite Hellebuyck, rather than because of him.

Now, there’s a few mitigating factors in play that I see.

First, the Jets season record has been helped by the fact they are getting backup goaltending right now the likes of which they haven’t gotten since, well, Hellebuyck was the backup. Laurent Brossoit has been a revelation and if Paul Maurice was deciding on who he should start in net based on numbers alone, it would be Brossoit in a landslide with his .935 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average. The Jets have collected 11 of a possible 14 points in games Brossoit has played and he’s a huge part of the reason we still aren’t seeing much evidence of Hellebuyck’s struggles in the league standings.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stops a shot by the New York Rangers Sunday in Manhattan. Winnipeg came back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period to win 4-3 in a shootout.
NOAH MURRAY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stops a shot by the New York Rangers Sunday in Manhattan. Winnipeg came back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period to win 4-3 in a shootout.

The other mitigating factor worth considering is that while Hellebuyck has clearly struggled and given up some terrribly soft goals at times, he’s also not been getting much help either. The Jets have yet to play anything resembling the stalwart defensive game that got them to the Western Conference Final last year. Throw in a plague of blue line injuries and no one should be surprised Hellebuuyck’s numbers have taken a beating. Even if he was playing the same game this season as last — which he’s clearly not — his numbers would still be way down because of the way his teammates are playing around him.

Still, you are what your record says you are and the Jets record says they’re a hell of a hockey team even with a struggling No. 1 goaltender.

Steve Lyons: I was out for dinner last night and heard a woman say to her husband: ‘Need to find things to keep our hands and minds occupied.’ Wise words, but I doubt she meant chips.

Hellebuyck has clearly struggled this season, especially in the third period where his save percentage has been around .880. I agree some of that has been the team’s loose defensive play — hello Tyler Myers — but those soft goals have creeped back into his game.

After signing that six-year deal worth $37 million over the summer, perhaps he’s feeling the pressure to be worth the coin? He seems like a guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself. His play can be glossed to some degree over during the regular, but he’s going to need to regain confidence and form as we get closer to the playoffs.

Interestingly, Paul Maurice has been pretty insistent his No. 1 goalie is doing just fine — unlike two seasons ago when he was yanking him every other game. Must be fun trying to coach goalies — kinda like managing columnists!

Paul Wiecek: What is it about this Jets team that the goalie making less money always plays better than the one making more?

Last year, it was Hellebuyck making less than half of what Steve Mason was making despite playing 10 times better. Before that, it was Hellebuyck outplaying Ondrej Pavelec, despite making a fraction of Pavelec’s salary. And before that, it was Michael Hutchinson, who wasn’t even making a million bucks, outplaying Pavelec, who was making close to $5 million.

And now this season, it’s Laurent Brossoit, pulling down a blue-collar (at least by NHL standards) $650,000 and outplaying Hellebuyck, who is making, cough, nine times that.

Morale of the story? A big salary and a long term contract doesn’t mean a low save percentage. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens, who are stuck paying Carey Price $10.5 million a season for five more seasons after this one despite the fact Price’s best-before date looks like it has long since come and gone. Oops.

Laurent Brossoit has been a revelation. (Trevor Hagan / Canadian Press files)
Laurent Brossoit has been a revelation. (Trevor Hagan / Canadian Press files)

As for Maurice, what else is he going to say? ‘Yeah, the goalie my boss signed to a rich long-term deal last summer sure looks like a good backup right now’ would not go over well with Kevin Chevaldayoff or Jets Nation. Maurice has no other option than to stay the course and hope that Hellebuyck rounds back into form, sooner than later.

But having said that, I think it’s also inevitable that Brossoit’s workload increases in the meantime.

Steve: I’m gonna suggest Hellebuyck finds his form and that won’t be required.

And since we’re on that subject, earlier this season I expressed some concern about the play of Patrik Laine. In fact, you and I have debated this a bit over the last three years. To me, he’s always been a bit of a one-trick pony. But as you’ve suggested — what a trick!

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that Laine will always remind me of a modern-day Frank Mahovlich. The Big M never looked like he was moving very quickly but he scored 533 goals in a Hall of Fame career.

So, that’s a good thing right?

Paul: My old man told me when I was kid, ‘All you’ve got to do is be good at one thing.’ I’m still trying to figure out what that thing might be, but Laine figured it out a long time ago and, very shortly, he’s going to parlay it into a long term contract that is going to make him fabulously wealthy.

Speaking of which, if William Nylander is worth $7 million a season coming off an entry level deal, what’s Laine worth? I’m figuring $10 million a year, minimum. Thanks Toronto.

The puck sails into the net past Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price early last month. (Paul Chiasson Canadian Press files).
The puck sails into the net past Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price early last month. (Paul Chiasson Canadian Press files).

Remember when Winnipeg made international headlines in 1972 by giving Bobby Hull a 10 year contract worth $2.5 million? Seems quaint now.

Steve: I’ve been wanting to get your take on the Ryan Fry fiasco. For those of you who may have missed it, the Winnipeg-born curler who plays third for the Brad Jacobs team has taken an indefinite leave from the game after being disqualified from a recent World Curling Tour event. Fry, along with teammates Jamie Koe, Chris Schille and DJ Kidby were punted for what organizers called unsportsmanlike behaviour resulting from excessive drinking. Organizers said Fry broke three brooms and that the team used foul language and was disruptive to other players on the ice.

There were plenty of these types of stories back in the day, right? But, the game has changed dramatically since becoming an Olympic sport. You spent a few nights at the curling rink in your time here at the FP. Thoughts?

Paul: Funny — I got this exact same question from my brother when the news broke. A lot of people seem genuinely bewildered that behavior that was so long commonly associated with curling — which is to say drinking and carousing — is now national news.

So yeah, there’s no question that the game has cleaned up its act, on the ice and off, ever since curling became a full medal sport at the Winter Olympics in 1998. A big part of that is because the stakes are so much higher. Even these rinky-dink weekend bonspiels like the one Fry was playing in now come with Olympic implications because they offer points towards qualifying for the next Olympic curling trials.

What’s Patrik Laine worth? (Martti Kainulainen / Associated Press files)
What’s Patrik Laine worth? (Martti Kainulainen / Associated Press files)

All of which means that even four years out from the next Winter Olympics, every rock counts and it is now considered very bad form to be stumbling around a bonspiel, breaking brooms and generally acting like an idiot. That’s probably for the best, although I do admit that I’m a bit nostalgic for the old days when — true story — a skip spent the Saturday night of a bonspiel in jail, got bailed out by his team on the Sunday morning and then won the final that afternoon, while wearing prescription sunglasses because his regular glasses had been broken in a fight the night before that sent him to jail in the first place.

I will tell you one thing about curling that hasn’t changed, however — it’s still the biggest swingers club in this country. Long before there was Tinder, there was competitive men’s and women’s curlers descending on a frigid Western Canadian town for a weekend bonspiel and turning to each other for warmth.

I saw a lot of cheating in my 20 years of covering curling in this country — and it was all off the ice not on it. And I’m reliably informed not much has changed in that regard.

Steve: I know you’re still watching hockey in retirement; curling as well?

Oh that reminds me, there was a guy in the gym the other day having a very loud conversation while on his cell phone and at one point he mentioned something about a few drinks after curling that night.

Pet peeve: Why does anybody think the rest of us want to hear their convo? There’s just no place for this in places like restaurants; the gym; the workplace. Why are you screaming?

I was a member of Niakwa Country Club for several years. Very civilized place — if you had to use your cell phone, you had to leave the public areas. Leave the rest of us out of it.. please.

Paul: I’m really looking forward to watching the Scotties and Brier this winter. That Kerri Einarson team, who are nominally curling out of my new hometown in Gimli, are maybe the best curling story in the country this season. And if Jennifer Jones wins the national Scotties again, that would give her the new record for Canadian women’s titles with seven, one more than the woman she currently shares the title with, Colleen Jones. Both of those are great storylines and a great reason to be plunked down in front of the TV on a cold winter night.

Ryan Fry is taking a break from curling. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press files)
Ryan Fry is taking a break from curling. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press files)

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about retirement is giving up my cellphone. I cannot overstate how liberating it is to no longer have an electronic device tethered to me 24/7. I highly recommend it.

Here’s what I don’t get about cellphone users — who talks on the phone anymore anyway? That’s just weird.

Steve Lyons: Like leaving a voice mail — who does that anymore?! Send me a text, right?

Gotta let you go pretty soon, but i just have to ask what you thought of the finish to the Bombers season. Man, they were terrible in that final against the Stamps.

Ok, they finally won a playoff game — beating a team that didn’t have a quarterback mind you.

In his season-closing press conference, GM Kyle Walters insisted the team is ‘close’ to their ultimate goal. I don’t know about that. I didn’t think they had another season in their aging core last year — in no way do I think they do next year.

I am going to say this one more time — I do not believe Walters has what it takes to put together a championship team.

I appreciated Doug Brown’s season-ending column — this team will need much improved play at QB and in the receiving corps next season.

By the way, Doug’s column is on hiatus over the winter — he’ll be back around mid-May.

Paul Wiecek: I will say this for the Bombers — for the first time under Mike O’Shea, they at least didn’t beat themselves. There were no crazy 61-yard field goal attempts, no ridiculous fake punts — they just got beat by a better team in the West Final. To me, that was a more noteworthy development than the Bombers winning a semifinal over a Saskatchewan team that, quite literally, had no offense because it suggests that, five years in, O’Shea is finally, mercifully learning from his mistakes.

Here’s what I know: in the same five year-span that it’s taken O’Shea, Walters and CEO Wade Miller to finally win one playoff game, the expansion Ottawa Redblacks have been to three Grey Cups and won one of them.

I think it’s time for a change, but I’ve thought that for two years now. And I think now would be the perfect time to make changes because with a new collective bargaining agreement coming up and a record number of free agents on the market this winter — including the likes of Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell — a new regime would have a uniquely free hand to completely remake the franchise in their own image.

Steve: The chances of that happening are about the same as you giving up ice cream!

Just please tell me Weston Dressler will not be one of the starting receivers again next season. Please.

Gotta jet pal. Always great to chat. Have a great holiday season — you and all those reading of course. Let’s re-convene and do another one of these next year ok?

Paul: Try to keep my Christmas present under a thousand bucks this year.


Kerri Einarson
Kerri Einarson's team is one of four from Manitoba named to Canada's national team program (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press Files)
Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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