The 2018-19 season was not a great one for the Winnipeg Jets. Sure, they finished second in the Central Division with 99 points, but after what they accomplished in 2017-18, something did not seem right this time around. In this series, we will take a look at some key Jets players who may or may not have been part of the problem in their up-and-down 2018-19 campaign.
Connor Hellebuyck had one of his worst seasons as a Winnipeg Jet in 2018-19. In the entire NHL, he ranked 24th in save percentage (SV%) and 35th in goals against average (GAA). After having a stellar 2017-18 campaign that saw him finish runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, the hopes and expectations were very high for him last season. The pressure may have gotten to him or maybe it was just one of those off years that some players suffer.
He appeared in 63 games last season, four short of his career-high of 67 the year before. He allowed a total of 179 goals, 23 more than the year before. The Jets were not quite as tight defensively last season as they were in 2017-18, so not all the blame can be placed on the 6-foot-4 goaltender. With that said, he did not have that key save ability last season as we saw in seasons past. When the Jets needed a save the most was commonly when we saw a soft one get past him. Hellebuyck also finished with just two shutouts last season after racking up six in the previous season.
Hellebuyck the Key to Jets’ Success
If the Jets have any hopes of making the playoffs for the third season in a row, Hellebuyck will most certainly be the key to that. With the defensive group facing a lot of uncertainty this upcoming season, having solid goaltending will go a long way for the team more than ever. Laurent Brossoit provided above-average backup numbers last season, finishing with a 13-6-2 record. Could we see him get more time if Hellebuyck falters?
Hellebuyck will hold down the starting job to begin the season; there’s no question about that. However, if he struggles, I think there may be a possibility we see Brossoit get to run with the starting job. A lot of fans were calling for that to happen last season, but head coach Paul Maurice decided to stick with number 37.
The Jets will sink or swim with the performance of Hellebuyck in 2019-20 – No pressure, right? If pressure was a concern for last season’s falter, things are not going to get any easier this time around. Let’s hope the coaching staff can put together a solid system that gets the most out of its players to help him as much as possible.
The 2017-18 season was considered a bounce-back season for Hellebuyck after he struggled in the 2016-17 campaign. After seeing him accomplish it once, there is no reason to believe he can’t bounce back again. He is also very good at bounce-back games in general – many times after a poor outing we would see his best in the next game.
It would be great to see the big goaltender string together some solid seasons in a row rather than always having to bounce back. This is what’s currently holding him back from joining the group of top goaltenders in the NHL. One strong season is not enough; he will have to work on his consistency and show again why he was considered for a Vezina Trophy.
Jets fans know this all too well from when Ondrej Pavelec held down the crease during his time with the Jets. He became well known for being inconsistent and giving up goals at the worst possible time. After his strong 2014-15 season that saw him lead the Jets into the playoffs, a lot of people thought it might be his turning point. As most of us know, that was not the case, as his struggles continued. Let’s hope Hellebuyck does not fall into this category and can give fans that sense of comfort that teams with top goaltenders feel. For the record – I think he has it in him to become one of the top goalies in the NHL.
Hellebuyck has been a work-horse for the Jets over the past two seasons. Last season he finished third amongst goalies for total games played with 63. Only Carey Price and Devan Dubnyk played more than he did, something he has become accustomed to. The 2017-18 season saw him tie Cam Talbot for the league lead when he played a total of 67 games. However, that doesn’t mean much if you do not perform in those games.
Last season was Hellebuyck’s worst ever with a 2.90 GAA; it was his second-worst season for SV% with a .913 rating. As mentioned earlier, he only had two shutouts last season, tying his previous worst season with two back in 2015-16. The big difference – he only played in 26 games that year as opposed to 63. His 34-23-3 record was nothing stellar, but it was enough to get the Jets into the playoffs, with the help of Brossoit’s wins.
If the trend of Hellebuyck having one poor season followed by a strong season continues, Jets fans should be ready for a stellar 2019-20 season. Not much went well in 2018-19 for him and he will be the first to tell you that. Expect a refocused goalie with a chip on his shoulder as training camp rolls around. I’m not saying he is going to go out and win the Vezina Trophy this season, but I think we see the good version of Hellebuyck once again. We all know what he is capable of and I think he does enough on his end to get the Jets back into the playoffs for the third season in a row.