Jets Taking Big Risk with Comrie As Backup

The Winnipeg Jets are taking a big risk by committing to Eric Comrie as their backup goaltender.

Reliable backup Laurent Brossoit was scooped up by the Vegas Golden Knights on day one of Free Agent Frenzy, receiving a contract richer than the Jets could afford (an AAV of nearly $2.5 million.) Signing a backup was lower on GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s priority list than finally improving his much-maligned d-corp, and he did that by trading for a top-four defensemen in Brenden Dillon on July 26 and trading for another in Nate Schmidt the following day. In the process, he took on their combined cap hit of nearly $10 million per season.

Related: Jets Continue to Improve Defensive Corp with Schmidt Trade

The other priority Cheveldayoff put above acquiring a backup is setting enough money aside to try and re-sign his RFAs — Andrew Copp and Neal Pionk, who are both coming off excellent seasons and will command roughly $10 million between them.

The Jets prioritized spending elswhere, hence lost three-year backup Laurent Brossoit to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Cheveldayoff indicated he knew Brossoit would be heading elsewhere when he signed long-time farmhand Eric Comrie to a one-year deal worth $750,000 one day before the market opened.

Opting for affordability on a backup is understandable, considering the Jets have Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck as their number-one guy. He’s an elite goalie and workhorse who wants the crease every single night (and usually gets it, too as he’s been one of the NHL’s busiest goaltenders over the past two seasons.)

Related: Winnipeg Jets 2020-21 Report Cards: Connor Hellebuyck

In addition, with a greatly bolstered blue line, the idea is the Jets will give up a lot fewer high-danger chances and not have to rely on goaltending to bail them out as often.

That being said, having Comrie as Hellebuyck’s backup is fraught with peril.

Comrie Inexperienced, Unsuccessful at NHL Level

Even if Hellebuyck starts 60-plus games — which isn’t out of the question — that still leaves 20 games for a backup, and Comrie’s track record in the NHL is not good.

Winnipeg Jets Andrew Copp Eric Comrie
Eric Comrie, seen here during a practice in 2019, is short on NHL experience and success. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

While he owns most of the Manitoba Moose’s all-time records and has played 207-career AHL games, he has only made eight NHL starts and nine total NHL appearances since his big-league debut in 2017.

In those nine appearances — five with the Jets, three with the Detroit Red Wings in 2019-20, and one with the New Jersey Devils last season — he holds a 3-5-0 record, 4.08 GAA, and .873 SV% and has looked shaky more often than not. Nothing related to his NHL performances inspire much confidence.

“His Time Has Come:” Cheveldayoff

Despite that, Cheveldayoff has faith in the tandem of Hellebuyck and Comrie, who spent time together with the Moose in their first season back in Winnipeg in 2015-16. Speaking after a quiet Free Agent Frenzy day, Cheveldayoff said:

Eric’s earned his time. His time has come. This player has worked hard, he’s gone through the trials and tribulations of being a top end American Hockey League goaltender and trying to push past some of the veteran people that were in front of him. He’s a great partner for (Hellebuyck.)

Eric Comrie, Manitoba Moose
Cheveldayoff has faith in Comrie, who he drafted 59th overall in 2013. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“There’s a real strong chemistry between the two,” he continued. “(Hellebuyck) had a good say in this as well from a standpoint of who he felt comfortable having as his backup. Wade Flaherty is real comfortable that (Comrie) is the guy that can take that next step. So again, it’s one of the players that earned the opportunity to be there.”

Cheveldayoff’s statement indicates pretty clearly that enigmatic and flashy goaltender Mikhail Berdin will not be given a chance to challenge for the spot. Berdin, a sixth-round 2016 pick with an unorthodox style, proclivity for coming way out of the net to play the puck, and bent for trying to score goals, has spent three seasons with the Moose. In the shortened 2021 AHL season, he posted a 3-11-4 record with a 2.89 GAA and .897 SV percentage.

A True Goaltending Gamble

Comrie is, by all accounts, a quality person and teammate, but that doesn’t automatically make him the right guy for the job. Berdin, three years Comrie’s junior and a very promising prospect, should at least be given the chance to push for the gig.

As The Athletic’s Murat Ates put it: promoting Comrie “is a gamble, (and) Winnipeg may be giving up a few points for cap savings and good vibes.”

With the Jets seemingly not in the market to add a UFA goaltender for extra insurance, fans and management alike will have to knock on wood. The team might be in massive trouble if Hellebuyck goes down with an injury.