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.
Connor Hellebuyck’s 2021-22 season was incredibly inconsistent. Despite not being anywhere near the biggest issue for the Jets, Hellebuyck’s average season was still a cause for concern.
Hellebuyck Experienced a Down Season
Plenty of people viewed this as a down season for Hellebuyck, and they’re not wrong. He finished the season with a career-low 2.97 goals-against average (GAA), and a .910 save percentage (SV%) which is the second-lowest of his career.
The expectation is for Hellebuyck to be an elite goaltender year in and year out, and he was well below that goal this season. The NHL average for SV % was .907%, with the average for GAA being 2.92. Like the team as a whole, he had an inconsistent season that is unlike how he’s played in the past. He was not “stealing” games as he usually does with regularity, but he was rarely the sole reason the Jets lost.
Although Hellebuyck did have a down season, he was still able to finish eighth in moneypuck.com’s rankings for goals saved above expected. He saved 16.7 more goals than expected, higher than starting playoff goaltenders Ville Husso and Jakob Markstrom. He was far from the biggest issue in what was a disappointing season for the Jets, but his inconsistent play combined with an all-to-heavy workload was a recipe for disaster.
Despite his goals saved above expected being top eight, there are stats along with the regularly tracked ones, that dipped significantly for him this season.
|Goals Saved Above Expected/60||0.445||0.257|
|Save % on unblocked shots||.954%||.949%|
|Wins Above Replacement||3.21||2.78|
These stats are meant to isolate his play and exclude how much the defence in front of him is struggling. This is an alarming drop-off, especially considering he posted a .931 SV% in last year’s playoffs. Approaching the back half of his career, the Jets should hope he’s able to bounce back and finish out his contract as the same elite goaltender he was just one season ago.
Hellebuyck’s Down Season was Magnified by Absurd Number of Starts
Despite Eric Comrie playing well above expectations this season, the Jets still started Hellebuyck 66 times, finishing second-highest in the NHL to Nashville’s Juuse Saros. Hellebuyck’s workload was a major topic of discussion throughout the season, especially when the Jets’ playoff hopes started to fade. When he was beginning to struggle, interim head coach Dave Lowry continued to play his starting goaltender at an alarming rate. Hellebuyck set the franchise record for most games played by a goaltender with 380, but the timing of that accolade raised concern.
In late January, Hellebuyck was started 13 straight times, and the Jets lost six straight as a result. During that six-game losing streak, Hellebuyck had a record of 0-4-2 with a 3.84 GAA and a .876 SV%. He was started too much throughout the season, and the Jets paid the price for it.
Related: Jets Paying the Price for Mishandling Hellebuyck’s Workload
With him turning 29 years old on May 19, the Jets are going to have to better manage his workload as they approach the back half of his career. Comrie was able to thrive in a backup role this season with a record of 10-5-1. His breakout season consisted of him having a .920 SV%, and a 2.58 GAA in 19 games played.
Save-percentage above expected, save-percentage on unblocked shots, and goals-saved above expected per-60 are all underlying stats that Comrie beat Hellebuyck in this season. A decision looms for management, as Comrie is an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Whoever the Jets backup is this season they will have to provide more of a rest for the Jets starter, as his workload being too high was one of the major reasons he struggled this season.
Hellebuyck’s Future is Certain
Going into an off-season with plenty of questions throughout the organization, Hellebuyck’s near future with the team seems certain. He is under contract until the 2024-25 offseason and is at an affordable price of $6.16M per season. He may not have returned value on that contract this season, but the Jets would be smart to expect a bounce-back season from the former Vezina trophy-winning goaltender.
Early reports about the Jets coaching staff indicate that Wade Flaherty will be the only assistant coach to remain on the staff. This all but solidifies whether or not Hellebuyck is in the Jets’ plans for the near future. He has a say in the organization, and if general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff believes that his star goaltender is to stay with the team long-term, he would allow him to choose a new goaltender coach or retain the current one. Flaherty has been the goalie coach for the Jets for eight seasons now and has developed a good relationship with Hellebuyck.
The Jets will be looking to re-tool this offseason. Despite most of the roster being re-evaluated and possibly rebuilt, the goaltending position is not believed to be a part of that. There were plenty of issues within the organization in what was a disappointing season.
Hellebuyck’s final grade takes that into account. He has had multiple elite goaltender seasons in the past, and this was not one of them. Although it was evident that he struggled at times, his usage and poor play in front of him were bigger factors of his own poor play. Playing average to slightly above average was not expected, but he remained far from the biggest issue on or off the ice.