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Can the Jets win with Ondrej Pavelec?

Almost halfway through the 2013-14 NHL season, and the Winnipeg Jets find themselves in an unfavourable, yet familiar spot in the standings: low enough to be out of a playoff spot, yet high enough to miss out on a lottery pick. The novelty of having a hockey team once again has worn off, and Jets fans now expect results, and one of the casualties of the starving fans has been the starting goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec. Many people debate whether or not the Jets can win with Pavelec, a former 2nd round pick, in between the pipes. In the second year of his 5-year/$19.5 million contract, Ondrej Pavelec is expected to perform at the level of an NHL starting goaltender. Unfortunately, Pavelec is failing to meet the expectations of many, but is he entirely to blame? Let’s take a look at his stats since the Jets franchise moved to Winnipeg.

Year Games Played Wins Losses OT Losses GAA Save % Shutouts
2013-14 32 11 16 4 3.03 .902 1
2012-13* 44 21 20 3 2.80 .905 0
2011-12 68 29 28 9 2.91 .906 4

* Indicates a lockout shortened season (48 games)

Pavelec’s numbers seem very unspectacular, but there are a few things to look into further before making a judgement. First, a notable stat to mention is that the Jets heavily rely on Pavelec, as he is currently tied for 2nd in the league for games played and has played 44 of 48 games during the 2012-13 NHL season. Secondly, Pavelec is only 26 years old. While that is usually the beginning of a player’s prime years, one must keep mind that goaltenders generally develop slower than skaters. At age 26, many of today’s star goaltenders were far from the player they are currently. Let’s see how Pavelec shapes up in comparison to other goalies when they were 26 years old.

Player Games Played Wins Losses OT Losses GAA Save % Shutouts Team Standing
Reto Berra (CGY)** 16 5 9 2 2.94 .904 0 13th (WC)
Roberto Luongo (FLA) 75 35 30 9 2.97 .914 4 11th (EC)
Ryan Miller (BUF) 63 40 16 6 2.73 .911 2 1st (President’s Trophy)
Kari Lethonen (ATL) 46 19 22 3 3.06 .911 3 13th (EC)
Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)** 32 11 16 4 3.03 .902 1 11th (WC)

** Indicates stats as of today (Current season)

While these may appear to be a random assortment of goalies, each goalie has a reason for which they were picked. Firstly, Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames, is a 26 year old goalie playing during the current 2013-14 NHL season. Similar to Pavelec, Berra plays on a below-average team, and is putting up below average stats. The main statistical differences between the two goalies at the moment are that Berra has played fewer games, creating a smaller sample size, and that Pavelec has more NHL experience. However, one can see that both goalies playing on mediocre teams are putting up mediocre numbers. Pavelec is far from a world-class goalie, and one may be able to cut him slack due to the team underachieving as a whole. But the issue is that Jets fans feel Pavelec isn’t pulling enough of his weight for the Jets to succeed, and one can see that with the next comparison.

When Roberto Luongo was 26, he was playing for the lowly Florida Panthers, and 26-year old Luongo made the best situational comparison to Pavelec. Both goalies were playing for mediocre teams, and were consistently among the league leaders in not only Games Played, but also Shots Against. The main difference between the two goalies at the time is that Luongo was highly regarded in the NHL, being a former 4th overall pick, and competing for Canada internationally. Luongo was clearly the better goaltender at 26, which is the reason for the higher Save %, but the similarly high GAA for both goalies suggests that fans cannot expect Pavelec to put up excellent stats on such a mediocre team. However, the consistently mediocre Save % that Pavelec puts up year after year cannot be avoided. Another problem fans have with Pavelec is that he is not elevating his team as 26-year old Luongo did, but rather playing at the same level as his team, if not holding them back.

But do the Jets need Pavelec to play at a world-class level to succeed? The Buffalo Sabres‘ 2006-07 season thinks otherwise. 26-year old Ryan Miller put up decent numbers (2.73GAA, .911SV%), but clearly did not carry the Sabres to their Presidents Trophy. Pavelec put up almost identical stats in his statistically best season (2010-11), so it does not seem out of reach to accomplish what Miller did. Of course, stats don’t tell the whole story, and the real story is that the Sabres during the 2006-07 season were miles ahead of where the Jets are now, and are regarded as one of the most talented and deep teams we have seen post-2004-05 lockout. Is it likely the Jets win a Presidents Trophy with Pavelec putting up the numbers he has proven to be capable of? Probably not, but the 2006-07 Sabres dispel the theory that Pavelec must be a statistically elite goalie for the Jets to win.

Lastly, both Kari Lethonen and Ondrej Pavelec played for the same franchise at the age of 26, though Lethonen played while the franchise was located in Atlanta. Both have followed similar statistical trends during their time with the Jets/Thrashers franchise, and struggled with inconsistency (in Lethonen’s case, mainly due to injury).

Kari Lethonen Ondrej Pavelec
Age Games Played GAA Save % Games Played GAA Save %
23 38 2.94 .906 42 3.29 .906
24 68 2.79 .912 58 2.73 .914
25 48 2.90 .916 68 2.91 .906
26 46 3.06 .911 32** 3.03 .902

Both goalies struggled in their first full season with their respective teams, even posting identical Save %’s, but improved their second years, almost posting identical stats once again. For their third and fourth years however, Lethonen started to show signs of living up to his 2nd overall selection, while Pavelec started to struggle, rather than improve.

Ondrej Pavelec 2013-14 Season
Games GAA SV% Shots Against
32 3.03 .902 950
NHL Rank (20+ Games Played)
T-3rd 24th 25th 3rd

It is obvious Pavelec is not carrying the Jets, and looking at his NHL rank, one may argue he may even be holding the Jets back. However, as goalies statistically have their best seasons after 26 (Kari Lethonen – 28y/o, Pekka Rinne – 28 y/o, Ryan Miller – 29 y/o, Henrik Lundqvist – 29 y/o, etc.), giving up on Pavelec at this point may be a little premature, as the Jets franchise experienced with the Kari Lethonen trade. Pavelec  is not the Jets’ only issue, and a change in coaching personnel and/or a culture change needs to happen before Pavelec becomes GM Kevin Chevedayoff’s main concern. If Pavelec does not improve in the next few years, hopefully one of the Jets’ goalie prospects in Connor Hellebuyck (who is taking the NCAA by storm) or Eric Comrie can make the transition to the NHL, as the Jets do not have an excess of assets to move for a starting goaltender.

Alvin Cho

Alvin Cho

Born and raised in BC, Canada. I have always been a big fan of sports in general, but hockey has always been on the top of my interests. Every day I am glued to the latest developments in the world of hockey, and it is becoming more than just an interest, but a part of who I am. Give me a follow on twitter! @AlvinTheChoster
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