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Hellebuyck shining with Jets, happy to contract talks and trade rumours behind him


Connor Hellebuyck was content to let the process unfold organically.

Coming off a season that featured personal success coupled with uneven results for his Winnipeg Jets — including a memorable, candid public dressing down from head coach Rick Bowness following a meek playoff exit — there were plenty of moving parts for the star goaltender to consider.

With one year remaining on Hellebuyck's own contract, what was the organization going to do about centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who wasn't interested in signing long-term? What about the future of Mark Scheifele, another key piece without a confirmed address beyond 2023-24?

In short, what was the direction of a team at a crossroads?

"When you approach free agency, it's something you can't really ever prepare for," said Hellebuyck, who was eligible to ink an extension July 1. "We were just trying to be patient, take in as much information as we possibly could."

The 30-year-old liked what came back.

Winnipeg dealt Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings for forwards Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari and a second-round pick in late June before a couple of depth signings followed in July.

"Very pleased," Bowness said of Hellebuyck's reaction to the moves. "He wanted to make sure that we were invested in winning the Stanley Cup."

The 2020 Vézina Trophy winner as the NHL's top netminder had seen enough — both he and Scheifele, the team's No. 1 centre, would subsequently sign matching seven-year, US$59.5 million agreements on the eve of the regular season, tying the pair to Manitoba's capital through 2030-31.

"Very important for us to get that out of the way," Hellebuyck said. "You don't want to be here answering questions about the deadline and all year answering questions about where we think we might be.

"Those contracts were a stamp on Winnipeg trying to win it. And then we have seven more years of trying to win it."

Like the rest of his resume to date, Hellebuyck has been worth every penny.

The Commerce, Mich., product owns a career-high .925 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average this season — tops among netminders with at least 25 appearances — for a Winnipeg group that sat third in the overall standings Jan. 20 before falling off a bit in recent weeks.

The Jets, who still sit a comfortable third in the Central Division with games in hand, have more tightly grasped the defensive concepts Bowness preaches throughout his second season in charge.

"Sometimes it takes a little time to adapt to something new," Hellebuyck said. "We've been historically a run-and-gun kind of team.

"Bring in a new coach and a new philosophy, sometimes it doesn't just change overnight."

A steal as the 130th pick at the 2012 NHL draft, the current Vezina betting favourite is 26-11-3 with three shutouts in 2023-24.

"Hungry to get better," said Jets sniper Kyle Connor, whose team has weathered a number of absences, including his own, in 2023-24. "He wants to win … it's all he cares about."

Since taking over the Jets' No. 1 job in 2016-17, Hellebuyck is 251-154-39 with 33 shutouts, a .917 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA, while facing 14,088 shots — 1,336 more than second-place Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"A treat to work with from Day 1," Bowness said. "I did promise him when I took over that we're going to make life a little easier for you, cut down in those grade-A (chances) against, which we've done. But he answers the bell.

"Always ready to go."

And ready to backstop the Jets this season — without any questions about his future — and beyond.

"I'm extremely pleased with staying," Hellebuyck said. "I've got it really good in Winnipeg."

The Jets no doubt feel the same.


Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov has rebounded off a disastrous start to the season that led to an AHL demotion.

After compiling an ugly 5-2-6 record with an .862 save percentage and a 3.94 GAA, the 26-year-old Russian has gone 7-2-0 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA, which ranks second in the league over that span, since being recalled last month heading into Wednesday's action.


Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said there was plenty of frustration.

Losing the Cup final will do that.

"It's so hard," he said of his team's five-game loss to Vegas in June. "Your dream is in the reach of (your) hand."

The Panthers, however, haven't missed a beat this season — especially since they got healthy.

Florida is 19-3-2 since late December, the NHL's best record over that stretch.

"You got great experience," Bobrovsky said of the playoff run. "Each of those rounds we could lose any game. One bounce, one bad break, you can lose the game and be out.

"Helped us to learn what it takes."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.


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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.