Who the Winnipeg Jets’ number-one goaltender will be in the seasons to come is not a question. Connor Hellebuyck is inked to a long-term deal and his outstanding play singlehandedly kept the team in countless games this season. The 26-year-old is just entering the prime of his career, looks to be a perennial All-Star candidate, and should win the Vezina Trophy and perhaps the Hart, too, for his heroics throughout 2019-20.
However, who his backup will be next season is a bit more of a question mark.
Brossoit’s Shaky Season
Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit’s numbers took a nosedive in his second season with the Jets. After a rock-solid 2018-19 campaign — in which he posted a 13-6-2 record 2.52 goals against average, .925 save percentage, and one shutout in 21 appearances and 19 starts — he smartly signed a one-year contract for double the money.
Brossoit was not nearly as effective and did not provide Hellebuyck with the same quality of relief he did in his first season. He largely struggled, posting a 6-7-1 record, 3.28 GAA, and .895 SV% in 19 appearances and 15 starts. He allowed his fair share of softies and his rebound control and positioning — which were two of his best assets a season ago — weren’t nearly as good.
When compared to backups on other teams who played a similar number of games, his numbers were more akin to Michael Hutchinson (5-9-1, 3.47 GAA, .888 SV% in 16 games) and Malcolm Subban (9-7-3, 3.17 GAA, .890 SV% in 21 games) than they were to higher-quality backups such as Ilya Samsonov (16-6-2, 2.55 GAA, .913 SV% in 26 games) or even James Reimer (14-6-2, 2.66 GAA, .914 SV% in 25 games.)
Related: Jets Need Brossoit to Be Better
Brossoit’s 2019-20 was a huge chance for him to prove to other teams looking for a net minder that he’s starter-quality. He didn’t do that, hence the demand for his services will be softer this offseason than it would have been if he’d have posted 2018-19-type numbers.
Is “Birdman” Ready to Soar to the NHL?
Whether the Jets re-sign Brossoit this offseason is largely contingent on if they believe Mikhail Berdin is ready for the big leagues. He’s certainly an intriguing option.
The eccentric and flashy Russian who has a penchant for playing the puck posted a 20-21-1 record in his second season with the Manitoba Moose along with a 2.89 GAA, .910 SV%, and two shutouts.
Those aren’t quite as good as his rookie numbers, but keep in mind he was run ragged in November and December as the Moose didn’t have a viable backup before re-claiming Eric Comrie — who they lost to the Arizona Coyotes just a few days before the AHL season began — off waivers just before Christmas.
There’s no denying Berdin’s athleticism, puck-handling prowess, or ability to make unorthodox saves. There’s also no denying he’s developed quite a bit in just two seasons. However, he is still just 22 years old and his level of aggression may work against him in the NHL (he throws checks behind the net, went viral for trying to kick the puck out of the zone, and often shoots for empty nets.)
Jets Need to Be Careful with their Cap Space
The Jets will have plenty of spending power this offseason as no-show-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s contract will be off the books as will Dmitry Kulikov’s. Their pending RFAs — Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Sami Niku, and Jack Roslovic — also won’t command huge contracts. However, they still can’t afford to spend frivolously.
The team has other needs, first and foremost to acquire a top-four blue-liner with term — either through free agency or via trade — to bolster the much-maligned d-corp that struggled all season long.
They also need to re-sign Dylan DeMelo, who was a huge pleasant surprise in 10 games after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators.
The salary cap may not rise as much as it was projected to in the pre-pandemic world. In early March — prior to the NHL season pause and widespread need for physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 — the cap was announced to rise to between $84 and $88.2 million USD.
Given how little revenue the NHL has generated in the past two months with no games, the cap very well may not rise as much or could even stay flat. That’s especially the case if the season cannot resume, an unfortunately distinct possibility.
Jets May Be Best to Hedge Their Bets, Allow Internal Competition
The best course of action at this point appears to be for the Jets to hedge their bets and offer Brossoit a modest one-year deal. If the Jets can ink him for around $1 million after addressing their other needs, it’d be an intelligent, low-risk move.
Internal competition with Berdin at the 2020-21 training camp — whenever that happens — may be the best thing for Brossoit. He certainly showed his A-game when he was in a battle with Comrie for the backup role prior to the 2018-19 season.
The best-case scenario, If Brossoit re-signs, is that he regains his form as it would allow Berdin another year to develop in the AHL. If Brossoit struggles again, the Jets would still be able to give Berdin a shot without completely committing to him as a full-time backup. It seems just a little too early to put all the eggs in “Birdman’s” basket.