Some Winnipeg Jets fans were confused Thursday when news broke that the team had claimed long-time farmhand goalie Eric Comrie off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings.
Indeed, it would seem strange to the uninitiated at first glance for the Jets to re-claim someone they just lost a few months ago. Upon closer inspection, however, the move makes good sense as a way to add American Hockey League depth.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Comrie claim means for the Jets and the Manitoba Moose, and why things are still complicated after the claim.
Moose Badly Need Another Viable Goaltender
The Jets didn’t claim their 2013 second-round pick because they suddenly thought he was an NHL-calibre goalie. Rather, they claimed him because the Moose are in desperate need of another viable goaltender.
Although he wouldn’t admit any burnout in an interview Friday, 21-year-old Moose starter Mikhail Berdin — who was thrust into the starter’s role after the Arizona Coyotes claimed Comrie off waivers just three days before the AHL season got underway — has been run ragged. As entertaining, flashy, and often spectacular the “Birdman” has been, he’s running on fumes from being forced between the pipes nearly every night.
Neither current backup Griffen Outhouse, nor Adam Carlson — who began the season behind Berdin but is now in the ECHL — are currently capable of succeeding at the level.
Berdin has appeared in 27 of 31 of the Moose’s games this season as a result and sports a 13-14-0 record, a 2.83 goals-against average, .912 save percentage, and two shutouts. Berdin was outrageous through much of November as the Moose posted an 11-4-0 record; he was bestowed with AHL player of the Week honour mid-month.
Related: Manitoba Moose November Review
It’s been a different story in December, though: the Moose are 2-5-0 through seven games and Berdin has struggled. He’s given up three or more goals in five of those seven, including six on 23 shots in a thoroughly embarrassing 10-4 loss to the Colorado Eagles on Wednesday. He called it the worst game of his hockey career.
Perhaps that drubbing was the push the Jets needed to claim their old pal Comrie, who is the Moose’s franchise-leading netminder in games played with 183 over six seasons, the first two with their former farm club in St. John’s. For the franchise, he’s compiled a 77-83-20-8 record, 2.88 GAA, .910 save percentage, and eight shutouts, and is also the all-time leader in minutes and saves.
Last season, Comrie and Berdin formed an effective one-two tandem down the stretch as Moose went from dead last at Christmastime to two points short of a Calder Cup Playoff spot in April.
Comrie’s Crazy Campaign
Eric Comrie may very well be singing “I’ve Been Everywhere” by this point.
After being claimed by the Coyotes on Oct. 1, he sat idle for more than a month before starting a conditioning loan with the Tuscon Roadrunners on Nov. 10 and posting a perfect 4-0 record in four starts there.
On Nov. 30, the Coyotes traded him to the Detroit Red Wings; Comrie made two starts for the bottomfeeder — including one against the Jets at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 10, where he allowed five goals on 30 shots — and one relief appearance.
However, after Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard both got healthy, the Hockeytown team tried to send Comrie to their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, but the Jets claimed him off the wire late Thursday morning.
Comrie Loved by Organization, but His Claim Comes with Complications
The ship has likely sailed on Comrie’s chances of being a full-time NHL goalie — he is too old to be considered a prospect, and at age 24 still has just eight shaky NHL games to his name. Recall, he had the chance to snag a full-time roster spot last season, but was easily beat out by the then newly-acquired Laurent Brossoit. However, that doesn’t make picking Comrie up a bad move.
Related: Battle for Jets’ Backup Is Brewing
The Jets need to ease Berdin’s burden to avoid burning him out. He could well be Connor Hellebuyck’s backup next season if Brossoit, who signed a one-year deal in May, moves on to greener pastures. Comrie is someone the organization feels is capable in an AHL crease; his veteran presence will be a positive on his young Russian cohort.
“Is there a better partner for any goalie than Eric Comrie? I don’t know. I don’t think so,” said Moose head coach Pascal Vincent Friday. “He’s a hard-working guy, great team player, very positive, super intelligent… he can stand up in the dressing room and be a real good leader. That’d be a good combination for sure.”
“When we found out as a team (that Comrie was claimed by the Coyotes) — just to tell you the impact he’s had on our team — the team went… it’s almost like you knocked them out. It took some time for us to recover from that,” Vincent said later.
The Jets won’t be able to send Comrie right to Vincent’s squad, however. They will need to put him on waivers again, and the Red Wings would have first crack and be able to send him straight down to the Griffins. The Jets did something similar last November — they claimed Marko Dano from the Colorado Avalanche and were able to send him straight to the Moose after their Central Division colleague snagged the Slovakian forward off waivers a month prior.
They won’t be able to attempt to get Comrie through waivers until Dec. 28, when the NHL’s 2019 holiday roster freeze — which took effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday — is lifted. They’ll carry him on the NHL roster until then. The Jets could also send him down on a conditioning loan, but as the collective bargaining agreement states, those can’t exceed 14 days as to prevent teams from evading waivers.
If the Red Wings or another team claims Comrie again, it is what it is — nothing ventured, nothing gained. If Comrie does clear, expect him to get at least half of the starts for the rest of the season for the farm club, but don’t expect to see him with the Jets unless Hellebuyck or Brossoit goes down.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.