Here we are entering the second week of March and the Winnipeg Jets are in the fight of their life trying to earn a playoff spot. The fact we are still able to say those words is largely due to one man – goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
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Hellebuyck has been exactly what the Jets have needed this season with their large turnaround on the back end and their constant rash of injuries they have suffered throughout the year. Obviously hockey is a team sport, but if the Jets are able to make the playoffs, you simply cannot deny the fact it was largely due to Number 37.
Hellebuyck Deserves Both Trophies
No matter what happens if the Jets make the playoffs or not, Hellebuyck deserves the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender at this point, much as he did in the 2017-18 season where he was runner-up to Pekka Rinne. If the Jets happen to squeak into the playoffs, I feel he is deserving of the Hart Memorial Trophy as well, which goes to the most valuable player to their team.
We all know the Hart Trophy usually goes to a player on a playoff team – that’s just the way it is – so regardless if Hellebuyck deserves it or not, the Jets will need to get over that hurdle for him to have a chance, otherwise, there is no hope.
Hellebuyck is currently second for most games started (56), third for most wins (29), first for shots against (1,720), first in saves (1,584), tied for eighth with a .921 save percentage (SV%), tied for 14th with a 2.59 goals-against average (GAA), first in goals saved above average (19.76), first in quality starts (34), and first in shutouts with six.
If those numbers don’t scream Vezina Trophy – especially with what the Jets have all gone through this season – I don’t know what does.
The biggest number I have noticed this season that makes me think Hellebuyck and Hart in the same sentence are his goalie point shares (GPS) which are first in the league at 11.8. This means Hellebuyck has gotten the Jets nearly an extra six wins this season by his play alone and I’d like to think that number should be even higher based on what I have seen this season.
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Think about where the Jets would be without those games from Hellebuyck or even if that number was cut in half. They would obviously not be in the hunt for the playoffs and we might not have seen a multi-year extension for head coach Paul Maurice.
Lots of Work to Be Done
This season could be one for the history books if the Jets and Hellebuyck make the playoffs but there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Jets are still behind the eight-ball sitting one spot out of a wild card spot and having the most games played of all the teams fighting for those two spots. Their chances have improved a lot after winning their last two games, as well as the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes recently losing.
Twelve of the Jets’ next 13 games are against Western Conference opponents and they have seven key matchups coming up against teams within one point of them as the standings sit right now. Hellebuyck’s current record against the west is an impressive 21-12-3.
The Jets have one more back-to-back coming up when they face the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks on the road in consecutive days. Expect backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit to get at least one more start for one of those two games but otherwise, I would expect Maurice to ride Hellebuyck for the other 12 games, giving the Jets their best chance to get in the playoffs.
Again these awards – especially the Hart – are contingent on the Jets getting into the playoffs and if they do, I cannot name another player who is more valuable to their team than Hellebuyck.
There is simply no way this team is even close to the playoffs without him. As I mentioned earlier with all the stuff the Jets have been through this season, it really is insane what this team has accomplished off the back of their starting goaltender.
The Hart has been awarded 92 times over its history with goaltenders only winning eight of those, the latest being Carey Price in 2014-15. He also took home the Vezina Trophy that season – the fourth goalie in NHL history to win both trophies.
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The odds are definitely not in Hellebuyck’s favour as it seems easy to pick the flashy forwards who score a lot of goals and rack up tons of points, but I think it would be a huge mistake to not consider him if he somehow takes the Jets to the playoffs for the third-consecutive season.