Jets Had No Intentions of Keeping Eric Comrie

The Winnipeg Jets didn’t lose Eric Comrie, they let him go. It’s been suggested they mismanaged the situation, but make no mistake, there was no mismanagement here. To think they weren’t aware he could become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end seems illogical. They have a front office team whose very job is to oversee the administration of multiple million-dollar contracts, to know each one thoroughly and make decisions based on that information. As such, there should be very few cracks for anything to fall through.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the media knew about Comrie’s situation, it’s unrealistic to think the Jets’ brass weren’t also aware of it. Simply put, there was never any intention of retaining his services for this upcoming season. If there were, they would have. It’s really that simple. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and last season’s coaching staff had his fate and total control of his future in their grasp. They didn’t allow it to slip through their fingers, they opened their hands and let someone else take it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Cheveldayoff has done a good job putting together a roster that will be competitive in 2022-23 despite last season’s disappointment. But it’s obvious Comrie was never in his plan moving forward regardless of the fact he exceeded all expectations and earned his place on the roster.

Comrie Outperformed His Contract

I know the backup goaltender on any NHL team is at or near the bottom of the totem pole in terms of priority and some may ask, “What’s the big deal?” However, he must be a player who can do two things: earn the trust of his teammates and win the few games he plays in. The Jets are a team built to win, at least that’s what the front office has repeatedly told its fans. History indicates that for any team looking to make a deep playoff run, it’s essential they have one that possesses both of those qualities. Comrie did.

The Jets had a proven backup in Laurent Brossoit but due to cap room issues at the end of the 2020-21 season were unable to pay him the $3 million the Vegas Golden Knights will be paying him in 2022-23. So they rolled the dice on Comrie for two reasons, one he was in the system and second, he was very inexpensive. The Jets paid him the NHL league minimum of $750,000 then told the public they had faith in his abilities and trusted him in net. However, actions speak louder than words.

Related: Winnipeg Jets 2021-22 Report Cards: Eric Comrie

Comrie had some impressive stats last season that should have garnered him more respect and playing time from the decision-makers. His goals against average (GAA) of 2.58 and save percentage (SV%) of .920 were both better than revered starter Connor Hellebuyck. His SV% was sixth in the NHL while his GAA was 15th overall which placed him higher than half the starters in the league.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

According to MoneyPuck.com, Comrie posted a .955 SV% on unblocked shot attempts and a .944 expected SV% during those same situations. That’s a difference of .011 points. The only other goaltender in the league with a higher differential was New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin at .012. Comrie’s 2.58 GAA was 0.60 points better than his expected GAA of 3.18. Again Shesterkin, who posted a 2.07 GAA against an expected GAA of 2.47, was the only netminder in the league that had a higher differential of 0.67. Incidentally, he won the Vezina Trophy last season as the NHL’s top goaltender making Comrie’s performance, despite a much smaller sample size, more impressive.

Regardless of the numbers, alongside his 10 wins in 16 starts which included a shutout, Comrie was still underestimated, undervalued and more importantly, underplayed.

Comrie Could Have Played More Early in the Season

Comrie was signed by the Buffalo Sabres as a UFA on the first day of free agency. However, he was not a UFA due to the expiration of his contract alone, as would be the norm. Instead, he was one because he didn’t play enough – and the Jets allowed that to happen.

Dylan DeMelo celebrates with Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Dylan DeMelo celebrates with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Under the NHL’s Collective Agreement, any goaltender who by age 27 has completed three professional seasons and has not played in 28 games for at least 30 minutes, is considered a Group 6 UFA. Being a UFA means the player has the freedom and control to determine where he chooses to play based on offers from any NHL club. It invariably means the player’s current club relinquishes any control over him. The Jets could have easily circumnavigated the issue, retained control of Comrie as a restricted free agent (RFA) and prevented his departure.

If Comrie had been given just three more starts in the 82-game schedule, he would have reached the 28 games played threshold and would not have attained UFA status. That’s a measly 90 minutes of ice-time in three games in a season with just under 5,000 minutes of opportunity. That is either serious mismanagement or it demonstrates they weren’t concerned about losing him. As I stated before, the front office has intelligent people in its employ and mismanagement doesn’t make sense.

Comrie Wasn’t Trusted in Net

The real issue is that although Comrie outperformed his expectations, he never gained the trust of the decision-makers. Hellebuyck has two more years on his current contract and if the Jets are to take a run at the Stanley Cup, it is going to have to happen in that timeframe. He is a workhorse and one of the best goalies on the planet, there’s no arguing either of those statements. However, he was overworked last season. He started in 66 games, which were second only to Nashville Predators’ starter Juuse Saros. He also played just over 3,900 minutes on a team that was notoriously weak on defense. In the latter half of the season, it was clear he was tired and not as sharp as the Vezina contender Jets fans had become accustomed to watching. Playing Comrie more would have alleviated that issue and in the process, rectified his impending UFA situation.

Related: Jets Paying the Price for Mishandling Hellebuyck’s Workload

Comrie was unable, despite incredible performances like his 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 29 that snapped a six-game losing streak, to gain the trust of either coaches Paul Maurice or Dave Lowry. In that particular game, he started for the first time in 50 days and hadn’t played a single second of hockey in that period. Yet he was spectacular in a victory on national television that the Jets desperately needed.

His reward? Not another start until Feb. 17. Two factors came into play here: first, it showed the Jets’ brass had little faith in his abilities and second, there was an interim head coach fighting for his job with Hellebuyck entrenched as the guy that could get him more wins. It was evident from both of the Jets’ head coaches last year that they didn’t believe Comrie could get the job done. So on July 13, the Sabres signed Comrie to a two-year, $3.6 million deal that has since been called the best under-the-radar signing of the offseason.

Comrie Didn’t Need to Be a UFA

A lack of trust and mismanagement of time is the real issue here. Comrie did everything asked of him when little was expected. He outperformed his contract and at times even Hellebuyck. He was also an inexpensive and reliable backup who was trusted by his teammates, but not administration so they simply let him go. Had they played him in three more games he would still be a Jet and with a year of NHL confidence under his belt, would have provided the 20-25 starts that the numbers say would have likely turned into wins.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I’m not saying his replacement, the recently signed David Rittich can’t do the job, I’m saying Comrie proved he could, which should have been recognized sooner. As a result, his departure could prove to be an opportunity missed the Jets may someday regret.


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