The Winnipeg Jets’ 2021-22 season was a disappointment, as they came into the season considered a Stanley Cup contender but drastically underperformed, finishing sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture.
In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
The backup goaltender is a position often overlooked and underappreciated in the hockey world. When Laurent Brossoit left the Winnipeg Jets for the Vegas Golden Knights via free agency last summer, many felt his departure created a void that the Jets didn’t properly fill. They had no cap space available and it seemed they added Eric Comrie onto the roster simply because he was already in the system and came at the lowest possible price.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said all the right things about him being a solid replacement for Brossoit and the right person for the job, but many fans and media saw it as a cheap and convenient way around a sticky issue. As it turned out, he either got lucky with his statements or has more real insight than the rest of Jets Nation because Comrie had a fantastic season. In fact, he was one of only a few bright spots on the Jets’ roster during their dismal campaign.
Comrie Outperformed Expectations
The Jets forced themselves into taking Comrie as their backup due to zero wiggle room with their salary cap and the fact his contract had him earning the league minimum of $750,000. Early in the season, the folks in the front office said he could do the job, but there was a real reluctance by then-head coach Paul Maurice to inject him into the starting lineup. It was evident then that what the coaching staff was saying didn’t match what they demonstrated…that they felt he could get the job done.
In Comrie’s 16 starts last season, he accumulated 10 wins, had a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.58 – which was nearly half a goal better than Connor Hellebuyck’s 2.97 GAA – and a save percentage (SV%) of .920, again better than that of the Jets’ starting goalie. His SV% for the season was actually 6th best among all NHL goaltenders, while his GAA was 15th, yet the number of games he saw action in, 19, was 64th in the league. Those numbers just do not sync.
Although Comrie wasn’t given much time in the pipes, he definitely exceeded expectations. Knowing he would have limited opportunities, he was regularly the first player on, and the last off the ice at the Jets’ practice facility. Having travelled on the waiver wire like it was public transportation, he took full advantage of the situation he was in.
Comrie Had Some Big Wins
With the Jets’ season being a roller coaster of hope versus disappointment, the latter being more prevalent, there were a couple of times that he came up big for them in situations that you wouldn’t expect. The coaching staff made a habit this season of overplaying Hellebuyck and it became the norm to not see Comrie in games that they “needed to win”. Yet at the tail end of a season-defining six-game losing streak in January, they gave him the start against the St. Louis Blues. It was Jan. 29, and the last time he played even a single second of NHL action was Dec. 10…which was a 50-day layoff. Surprisingly, he backstopped the Jets to a 4-1 victory on 28 saves, half of which came in the third period.
In early March, needing a win to keep the Jets’ slim playoff hopes alive, Comrie stole them a 2-1 win in a game they were badly outshot and outplayed. He kept his team in the game despite having faced 26 shots in the first two frames as it wasn’t until the third period that the squad in front of him played with any level of enthusiasm. It was a win the Jets had become accustomed to over the previous few seasons…being outplayed and having their goalie steal the win. However, it wasn’t Hellebuyck playing the role of a thief this time.
Finally, on April 27, he recorded his first career NHL shutout with a 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a great win for him personally in a season that had a ton of uncertainty, and through it all, he remained positive and focused on his role. He is a popular player and his teammates respect his play and work ethic.
“He’s the type of teammate you cheer for every single day. You see it in practices, I’m sure you guys watch it all of the time, he’s always one of the last ones off, putting in all of the work. So it’s pretty cool to see it pay off.”– Kyle Connor, following the Jets’ 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, 4/27/22
Comrie Never Gained the Coaches’ Trust
Regardless of Comrie’s work ethic in practice, his high level of play and success, and the fact that he did everything asked of him, he never gained the trust of the coaching staff. Neither Maurice nor interim head coach Dave Lowry ever showed full confidence in him. Hellebuyck simply played too much and was not fresh at the end of the season when the Jets needed him the most. He didn’t have a bad year, but he certainly didn’t have the Vezina Trophy kind of season fans have been accustomed to seeing.
Comrie’s only downfall last season was that he just couldn’t get the Jets brass to see him as a viable and valuable option. If they had, he would have played more. To add to this, their mismanagement of him may cost them, as he is free to sign with another team this summer. Because he is over 25 years of age and has played in less than 28 games, he is now a Group 6 Unrestricted Free Agent. The Jets had to play him in only three more games to prevent that from happening, so the lack of trust and failure to play him has created this embarrassing oversight.
It would not be surprising to see Comrie get an offer from another club at a considerable increase in his pay. I would not suggest in the $3 million range, but at least half of that would be fair. Either way, the Jets are going to have to give him a raise to keep him in the lineup. If they actually want him on their roster, that is, as nothing they did this past year would suggest that he is a huge priority either way. Whether or not he won over the coaching staff and front office, he absolutely won over the fan base and they would like to see him return next season. That you can trust.
Overall Grade: A
Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.