Spinorama Hockey

Does Danault’s End to End Goal Mirror the Winnipeg Jets?

At the beginning of the season, most people picked the Winnipeg Jets to miss the playoffs. I was not one of them. When I looked at their projected roster, there were many reasons to be excited about their potential. Mark Scheifele ended the previous season as the hottest player in the NHL. Nikolai Ehlers was very impressive with his speed and goal scoring prowess. To the surprise of many, Dustin Byfuglien had also signed an extension with the team without evening testing the UFA market. Add to that the fact they would have the 2nd overall pick Patrik Laine and US college standout Kyle Connor in the lineup, I liked the DNA of the team, considering where the NHL game is headed. Youth and speed.

So far this season has been up and down, with the team continually floating around the .500 mark. Just when you think they are about to take off, they come crashing back down. Not yet being able to produce a winning streak of 3 games or more, this season. The frustrating part about this is how they are able to totally dominate in one game, against the top teams in the NHL, and in the very next game appear to not even show up. And this has not happened just once. It has occurred several times during the season.

The most recent example of this was the game against the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs got off to an early lead, scoring two quick goals in the 1st, with the Jets responding not long after. However, the Habs struck for two more, during which goalie Connor Hellebuyck was chased from the crease. The see-saw battle continued until early in the 2nd, when Habs forward Phillip Danault scored on a highlight-reel, end-to-end rush. The goal itself resembled one you would see in a Sunday pick-up game at a local community club, played with little equipment and no contact. Danault dodged four Jets skaters before quickly ripping a wrist shot past goalie Michael Hutchinson. As a result of the goal, and after calling a timeout, coach Paul Maurice lit into his team, which ended up being the most talked about hockey story of the night. The tirade unleashed by their coach was a long time coming.

After looking at the replay a few times it got me thinking how the goal itself represents the Jets current situation. First, as Danault wound his way around the net he was being chased by Ehlers. Ehlers was not quick enough to catch up to him, and before you knew it, he was gone. Ehlers, is part of the youth movement of the Jets and up until Laine got hurt, they, along with Scheifele, were part of the most exciting and top producing lines in hockey. The Jets have one of the most promising pool of young players in the league, which includes the likes of Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Jack Roslovic, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, Eric Comrie, and Kyle Connor. As much as we’d like to see them immediately dominate and lead the team to a playoff spot, this doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time. Just as Ehlers wasn’t quite able to get to Danault on that play, the youth of this team may not quite be ready to lift this team into a playoff spot.

The next player Danault whiffed by was forward Drew Stafford. Stafford seemed to have the edge on Danault, but with a couple of quick strides combined with a light-hearted checking effort, he was gone. Stafford is an upcoming UFA and is part of the only big trade made by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in the past 6 seasons. The trade sent Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf to the Buffalo Sabres for Stafford, Tyler Myers, Lemieux, Armia, and a 1st round pick, which ended up being Roslovic. It was a great haul for Chevy, landing two roster players and three top prospects. However, in the final year of his contract, it’s more likely than not that Stafford ends up being traded at the trade deadline, regardless of whether the Jets are in a playoff hunt or not. The other player, Tyler Myers, appeared to be a shoe-in to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, with Jets needing to decide whether to protect 8 skaters or 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie. However, with back-to-back injury filled seasons and the emergence of Trouba, Myers may no longer be a lock to be protected. If he were to get chosen by the Vegas expansion team, the Jets would have lost two key components of this trade. This leaves the question: Has Chevy done enough on the trade front to improve this team immediately and make them a contender? Or it is too early to do this, based on their draft and develop model?

The third and fourth players who fell victim on the play, were Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien. Little was in the same position as Stafford, except on the opposite side, and ended with the same result. Then, when Danault crossed the blue line, instead of blocking his lane, Byfuglien attempted to step into him, which the Habs forward easily dodged, on his way unimpeded to the Jets net. Little and Buff represent the core of this team. The core that came from Atlanta when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. Slowly, some of these pieces have been moved, with the biggest and most recent being captain Andrew Ladd last season.

Coming into this season the biggest question was, who would take over as the captain of this team? Some were calling for their first 1st rd pick, Scheifele, to be named captain. Others saw Blake Wheeler being the natural successor in the role left by his close friend, Ladd. The trend in the league has been to give big contracts to young stars, with the bridge deals becoming less and less common. But is giving the captain’s role to an up-and-coming star asking too much? It was a decision both Maurice and Chevy needed to make wisely. One question being, is the core still the current focal part of this team? The biggest question going into last season is what would become of Ladd and Buff? Both players were set to become UFAs. Could the Jets afford to re-sign both, with the number of young players needing to be paid down the road? Should they move on from the core and allow the young players to step in and take over right away? In the end, they did both by trading Ladd, while keeping Buff. Keeping Buff appeared to be the smart move. A unique and dynamic player in a position that is so sought after and so tough to fill. However, thus far Buff has not had as strong season as last, which sometimes can be expected after a contract year. With that, coupled with the team’s recent struggles, the core question has again resurfaced. Two of these players, Little and Toby Enstrom, are signed until next season. Captain Wheeler has two more years, and Buff has four years left. It’s a question that may need to be addressed if this team fails to either improve or make the playoffs.

Finally, the last line of defense that Danault had to cross was the player standing in front of the net. Yes, the goaltender. No Jets position has been more closely scrutinized over the years than in goal. This play, Hutchinson did not have much of chance, with Danault pretty much having a clear cut breakaway as he put the wrist shot short side, past him. This hasn’t always been the case though. In the first five seasons, Ondrej Pavelec was given the opportunity to be the #1 goalie. With him in net, the Jets have made the postseason once over the previous five seasons only to be swept in four games by the Ducks. This season, the team decided to move on from Pavelec and give Connor Hellebuyck the opportunity to grow into the position, to see if he can take over as the team’s best goalie. Just like the rest of the team, Helle has had his ups and downs. One game, he shuts out the Blackhawks, and then he gets pulled in back-to-back games against the Habs and Arizona Coyotes. The success, or lack thereof, and the focal point has always seemed to revolve around save percentage. It’s not good enough. Not high enough. It’s below average. It seems to all come back to the chicken or the egg question. Is it the goaltending that is the problem? Or is it the team defense that needs improving?  Or both for that matter?

The team knew going into this season that they were taking a risk going with two inexperienced goalies. They have also been handcuffed by the Hutch situation, in not wanting to send him down and expose him to waivers, due the upcoming expansion draft. Despite having to still pay Pavs, should Chevy had gone out and signed or traded for a veteran backup, in case Hellebuyck faltered? As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but outside the entry draft, this is the only position that Chevy has not made a significant move via free agency or trade. Yet it is a position that, right or wrong, continues to be the most magnified. While they have tried to move Pavelec, they have thus far found no takers due to his contract. This may change as it gets closer to the deadline. However, this may be preventing them from bringing in another goalie, such as Jaroslav Halak, who you can argue has had more success than Pavs.

One end-to-end play which mirrors and exposes the issues, decisions, and questions, which, depending on how the season goes, the Jets may need to address sooner than later.

Editor’s Note: Pavelec was re-called to the Jets as of the date of this article (January 17th, 2017).


How is Connor Hellebuyck Actually Doing?

It’s not easy being Connor Hellebuyck this week. It wasn’t bad last week. This seems to alternate week to week. The inconsistency of a young team and it’s young goalie starting to take a toll. Days after he shut out the Calgary Flames and claiming confidence, he gets shelled in back to back games against the Montreal Candadiens & bottom feeders the Arizona Coyotes.

With all the noise from the media, with all the highs and lows about Connor Hellebuyck’s record so far this season, our Spinorama writers took some time to look into how well our new to the NHL goalie has been doing. We decided that to keep things in perspective we would look at other top goalies in the NHL and how their careers started. I promise no mention of the Jets defensive game wows or firing of any of their coaches…

In Connor Hellebuyck’s first full seasons, his record so far is as follows:

2015-2017 (2 yrs): 29 Wins, 24 Losses, 2 OT, 5 Shutouts for a 912 Save%

Keep in mind prior to the last 2 games when he was pulled after 13 shots letting in 6 goals, he had a 915 Save%, the reason I mention this is we are judging him at most likely the low point of this season)

Here are some top net minders in the NHL that we looked at the beginning of their careers followed by the years, wins, losses, OT Losses, Shutouts and Save%:
Sergei Bobrovsky

2010-2012 (2 yrs): 42 Wins, 23 Losses, 10 OT, 0 Shutouts for 909 Save%

Devan Dubnyk

2009-2012 (3 yrs): 36 Wins, 43 Losses, 13 OT, 4 Shutouts for 910 Save%

Carey Price

2007-2008 (2 yrs): 47 Wins, 28 Losses, 13 OT, 4 Shutouts for 911 Save%

Frederik Anderson

2013-2015 (2 yrs): 55 Wins, 17 Losses, 5 OT, 3 Shutouts for 917 Save%

Corey Crawford

2010-2012 (2 yrs): 63 Wins, 35 Losses, 13 OT, 4 Shutouts for 910 Save%
With the exception of Frederik Anderson, Connor Hellebuyck is on pace to better Sergei Bobrovsky, Devan Dubnyk, Carey Price and Corey Crawford at the beginning of their careers. Also important to note with the exception of Dubnyk, the win loss records of their teams were much better than the current Winnipeg Jets so we can assume their teams in front of them were better or more experienced.

I’m not saying by any means that Connor Hellebuyck is better than any of the above goalies but maybe in this high intensity market of Winnipeg (not really), the only thing I’m really saying is, it’s not easy being Connor Hellebuyck…

written by Frank Zappia


It keeps me up at night! The dreaded question. How long will it take the Winnipeg Jets to win the Stanley Cup? Will they ever win it? Will Canada’s most famous corner Portage and Main be opened up to pedestrians one day only to be closed temporarily for a Stanley Cup celebration? Most importantly will they ever win the cup in my lifetime?

Most pundits will tell you that it takes 10-12 years to win Hockey’s ultimate prize. This of course assuming you do most everything right to build your winner. I have been thinking about this for a while. How does one analyze if the Jets are on the right path? One can speculate but I needed evidence. A team that has done it before. Let’s start with the cliche Chicago Blackhawks that everyone in Winnipeg uses as an example of the draft and develop model the Jets are supposedly on. Though difficult and arbitrary we will do our best to compact and analyze both franchises beginnings of the journey starting with their low points.

Let’s start with some history for both franchises. The Thrashers/Jets organization had their lone playoff appearance in 2006-2007 and were awful until they moved to Winnipeg. The Hawks were actually a really good team in the early 90’s going to the Stanley Cup Final under Mike Keenan. They had a 103 point Jeremy Roenick and of course future hall of fame goalie Ed Belfour on that team. This era was followed by Coach Darryl Sutter’s 3 straight years in the playoffs and then by Coach Craig Hartsburg’s 2 out of 3 playoff years but his last year at the helm was the Hawks worst season in 10 prior seasons. For arguments sake we will start the comparison in this year (1997-1998). This was the start of the lean years for the Hawks. We will break this down in 3 segments as we will show you how it took Chicago 12 years to win the Stanley Cup.

Segment 1 – Losing Seasons

Blackhawks 1997-2002 – Year 1-5

There were 5 different coaches in this time frame including Winnipeg Jets 1.0 former assistant coach Alpo Suhonen (remember his name was compared to dog food by Don Cherry – don’t ask). The Hawks struggled in this era making the playoffs in only their final year under new coach Brian Sutter. They had a nucleus of some veterans and younger players most notably players in this era were Tony Amonte, Eric Daze, Michael Nylander, Steve Sullivan, Alexi Zhamnov, Chris Chelios & Gary Suter. A few goalies namely Jeff Hackett & Jocelyn Thibault. Draft picks were very weak and no notable NHLers were drafted with the exception of Daniel Clearly who was selected in the first round of the 1997 draft and Tuomo Ruttu selected in the first round of the 2001 draft.

Jets – Atlanta Thrashers 2007-2011 – Year 1-4

The final 4 years of the Thrashers we felt was an appropriate place to start as the Jets 2.0 were not an expansion franchise. Coached by 3 different coaches in Bob Hartley, John Anderson and Craig Ramsay. Notable players were Ilya Kovolchuk, Slava Kozlov, Rich Peverley, Tobias Enstrom and goalie Kari Lehtonen. No playoffs and the only notable draft picks were Z Bogosion and E. Kane who were eventually traded by Jets 2.0. Similar status to the Blackhawks as they had bad drafting and no on ice luck with a few veterans in the stable

Segment 2 – Brutal Seasons and Good Drafting

Blackhawks 2002-2007 – Year 6-9 (2004-2005 was cancelled)

This is the golden era of great drafting that made the Hawks Stanley Cup Champions. Brutal regular season finishes with a combined 54 games under 500 in just 4 seasons. The bad seasons, good scouting and draft positioning made their drafting second to none. Duncan Keith 2002-2nd round, Brent Seabrook 2003-1st round, Corey Crawford 2003-2nd round, Dustin Byfuglien 2003-8th round, Cam Barker 2004-1st round, Dave Bolland 2004-2nd round, Niklas Hjalmarsson 2005-4th Round, Jonathon Toews 2006-1st Round (3rd overall) & the following year (2007) they would draft Patrik Kane first overall. The last two mentioned picks being the most crucial as they picked high in the draft order to get both players. The Kane and Toews picks would prove to be the corner stones of their Stanley Cup runs.

Jets 2.0 – 2011-2016 – Year 5-9 Good drafting to compliment existing core
Unlike the Hawks, Jets 2.0 had an existing younger core when they first arrived in Winnipeg. The likes of Wheeler, Little, Ladd, Byfuglien, Enstrom & Pavalec to name a few. This can be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing. Starting from scratch seems to work better when stripping down a franchise for this draft and develop model. Regardless management felt they have a good core in place and seemingly on the right path with a group of picks that potentially have an upside to compliment their existing core. Mark Scheifele 2011-1st Round, Adam Lowry 2011-3rd round, Jacob Trouba 2012-1st Round, Josh Morrissey 2013-1st Round, Nikolaj Ehlers 2014-1st Round, 2015 has a host of potential major contributors but too soon to judge and of course 2016 – 1st Round pick and the highest of all the Jet draft picks to date Patrik Laine who (drafted 2 overall). The only thing missing is a goaltender which they may have in 2012-5th round pick Connor Hellebuyck or 2013-2nd round pick Eric Comrie.

Segment 3 – Stanley Cup Champions?

Blackhawks 2007-2010 – Year 10-12, Stanley Cup Champions

As the draft and develop model continued to mature the Hawks missed the playoffs in 2007-2008 but finished 6 games over 500. 2008-2009 they finally made the playoffs after a coaching change 4 games into the season going from Denis Savard to Joel Quenville and went all the way to the conference final setting up their eventual march to the Stanley Cup in 2009-2010 when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. Complimenting the roster with a mix of youth and veterans at this stage in the build proved to be the clincher for the Stanley Cup victory. In July of 2009 the Hawks signed Marion Hossa from Detroit to compliment their already talented roster.

Jets 2016-2019 – Year 10-12 or 13?

The Jets are 39 games into 2016-2017 and the Jets look young and inconsistent. Currently, at the time of this article the Jets are 2 games under 500 and out of the playoffs. Coaching, goaltending and a young roster all question marks. The Hawks in year 10 finished 6 games over 500 and out of the playoffs. The following year they would fire their coach, bring in Joel Quenville and would make the playoffs winning the Stanley cup in year 12. Can the Jets win the Stanley Cup in the next 2-3 years? Hard to say but this will coincide with Wheeler, Little, Enstrom and Byfuglien trailing in and out of their prime years. In my opinion, the Jets will need a strong second half to this season to keep on track with the Blackhawks. Does Winnipeg’s coach Quenville come along or does the very experienced Paul Maurice get the job done? Does the Jets goaltending eventually become good enough to put this team over the top?
Regardless of your opinion on the above there are some major similarities to the paths both teams were and are on. Ultimately the paths seem similar but the intangibles of a team roster and make up can only be judged in retrospect. So will the Jets win the Stanley Cup in the next 3 years or in my lifetime for that matter? I sure hope so. Closing Portage and Main would be worth it…