Hutchinson deserves more

He's earned shot at a string of games

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If winning games is the metric by which the Winnipeg Jets judge themselves and are to be judged from the outside, it is time for Michael Hutchinson to be in goal more often.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2014 (2905 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If winning games is the metric by which the Winnipeg Jets judge themselves and are to be judged from the outside, it is time for Michael Hutchinson to be in goal more often.

If Hutchinson plays and wins tonight, he should get the net in the next game Tuesday. He’s earned it.

This isn’t about Ondrej Pavelec. He’s been fine. It’s about Hutchinson. He’s been outstanding and has pushed open the door through which he should be allowed to walk.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson

To this point, head coach Paul Maurice has been a maestro in divvying up time among his goaltenders, letting their play make the decisions.

But to be true to this method, Maurice may have to depart from what to this point has been an organizational stance and give Hutchinson a run of games.

Pavelec is the No. 1 goalie in Winnipeg. His contract and minutes played say as much. But right now, in almost every way, including the most important of all, Hutchinson is playing better.

Save percentage and goals against are statistics fans can debate all day. But the final and most important arbiter of a goalie’s play is games won and lost. In his last nine decisions, Hutchinson is 6-3. In his last nine decisions, Pavelec is 3-6.

Arguments can be made about strength of competition in those stretches, and so too can the level the Jets have played at in front of the goalies, but in the end the win totals are supreme.

Maurice has gone with a straight rotation over the last nine games — Pavelec one game, Hutchinson the next. Pavelec has played five of those games and won two. Hutchinson has played four and won three. Hutchinson, in this small window, is getting the job done at a more effective rate. The Jets need to see what happens next.

Hutchinson has the better numbers of the two netminders so far. He has the edge in all the key measurables, such as save percentage (.941 vs. .914) goals-against (1.67 vs. 2.32) and record (6-1-2 vs. 9-8-4).

Under the quality-start statistic (percentage of games where a goalie either posts a save percentage better than the league average or allows two goals or less), Hutchinson comes in at .714 where Pavelec has a .619 percentage. The concept behind the statistic is the average team should be able to win in a quality-start situation.

The Jets are just that, an average team, needing better-than-average goaltending. Lately, 24-year-old Hutchinson has provided this more often than Pavelec.

The big argument against Hutchinson has been sample size. He’s faced 238 shots in 504 minutes of action, while the much busier Pavelec has seen 591 shots in 1,318 minutes.

Still, Hutchinson is No. 1 in the league in goals-against average and save percentage.

The question is: Can Hutchinson maintain his superior numbers given a larger workload? Unlikely, but to what degree he will slide needs to be determined. As for hampering his development, Hutchinson played in 76 games last season between the ECHL, AHL and NHL. Goalies generally hit their save percentage peak between ages 24 and 26. If Hutchinson can’t take a heavier load now, the window for such deployment will soon be closing.

It’s time to find out what he can handle.

A few weeks back an inquiry to a highly regarded NHL goaltending consultant prompted the following assessment on Hutchinson.

“He has a good skill set, but not great, not sure it translates to elite No. 1 status,” said the analyst. “His lateral movement is just OK, his positioning is just good. A lot of his game is good, not great. Not sure you would want to put all your eggs into that basket to build a franchise on.”

A follow-up on Friday morning got this response.

‘… He gives himself a chance because he reads the play so well. He uses his body well and he has a beautiful butterfly, and he’s flexible. It might be time to see more of him’

— NHL goaltending consultant, on Hutchinson

“I’ve been watching Hutchinson more closely since we first talked. He has some intangibles. His timing and anticipation are excellent,” said the consultant.

“I watched a two-on-one recently, and he read it beautifully. You could see he had all of the options available in his mind. Then he made the save. Structurally, I stand by my original assessment — he’s average. But he gives himself a chance because he reads the play so well. He uses his body well and he has a beautiful butterfly, and he’s flexible. It might be time to see more of him.”

Maybe it’s just a nice stretch of games with lots of circumstances combining to make him look better than he is. Or maybe Hutchinson is the next Tim Thomas, a goalie overlooked early in his career who becomes elite after defeating the longest of odds.

Hutchinson has knocked down every challenge placed in his path over the last couple of years. He climbed from the ECHL to the NHL last season and then went back to the AHL for a playoff run right to the Calder Cup final. He’s earned everything he’s achieved.

Hutchinson has been given nothing and achieved a lot.

Pavelec doesn’t deserve to be shoved aside. He’s done everything the Jets have asked of him this season. But at this point, his numbers are average while Hutchinson’s are elite.

Professional hockey coaches aren’t in the business of protecting feelings. They’re paid to get results. Pavelec’s ego will be bruised if Hutchinson takes the crease for a few consecutive games. That, however, is simply life in the big city.

The Jets are still a work in progress as far as the roster goes, and goaltending remains a huge part of the puzzle. Average goaltending won’t get this team to the post-season. The Jets need more.

The hold on a playoff spot is tenuous.

Pavelec hasn’t been able to stack up the wins of late, while Hutchinson has been getting the full two points with more regularity.

For that reason alone, it’s time to find out what Hutchinson can accomplish given even more opportunities.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

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