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Winnipeg’s nightly dependence on Hellebuyck is staggering

Connor Hellebuyck Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets Columbus Blue Jackets Connor Hellebuyck Patrik Laine - The Canadian Press

The Winnipeg Jets are spiraling.

After a two-goal regulation loss at the hands of the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night, organizational frustration must be setting in. Winnipeg has dropped seven of its past eight games, and has been outscored by 13 goals over that stretch.

Thanks to a bunch of points banked early in the season, Winnipeg is still more likely than not to qualify for the playoffs. But even that is starting to come under pressure.

The Jets have about a 74 per cent chance of qualifying for the postseason after their regulation loss to the Wild – still favourable, but certainly not where the organization expected to be three months ago. And if their current play is indicative of how the rest of the season may go, Winnipeg could be in for quite the battle.

Consider just how quickly this whipsawed from their dominance in November, when the Jets rattled off nine wins over a stretch of 12 games:











So, what’s going on?

One of the things I keep circling back to with Winnipeg is how reliant they are on goaltending. It’s been an exhaustively discussed topic over the last few seasons as the Jets have tried to retool their lineup. But despite plenty of star power at the top of the lineup – Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Pierre-Luc Dubois alone have accounted for 84 goals on the year – it’s rare to see Winnipeg truly outplay a team.

I want to underscore that point. Winnipeg wins games when Connor Hellebuyck erases a bunch of goals. If Hellebuyck is so much as average, the Jets usually lose.

The NHL has always been a goaltending-driven league in some capacity, but Winnipeg’s nightly dependence on Hellebuyck is staggering. It’s difficult to think of a team that has been more reliant on extraordinary individual effort in the crease over many years now, and this season is no different.

Consider a distribution of Hellebuyck’s performance in games where the Jets emerged victorious versus games they lost in regulation or overtime. In Winnipeg wins, Hellebuyck is a full goal better than a league-average goaltender, and in many cases erases more than a goal in a single game. In a league that sees an average game total of six or seven goals, that is significant.

Hellebuyck is close to the performance of a league-average goaltender in Winnipeg losses. And when he plays like a league average goaltender, Winnipeg loses with stunning regularity:











There is a significant benefit to having a goaltender the quality of Hellebuyck: Winnipeg has a goaltender advantage in effectively every possible matchup around the league. Not only should Winnipeg win games against weaker opponents, but they also have a secret weapon in net who can pull off upsets against elite competition.

But there is a hidden cost with having a goaltender this good, too. He masks issues, and he does it frequently. The current version of this team is entirely built off the back of Hellebuyck. Despite efforts to build out the rest of the roster in front of Hellebuyck, results have broadly been disappointing.

Every team in the league has to overcome substandard goaltending at some point, but it shouldn’t feel impossible. And in yet another season where Winnipeg’s skater group can’t differentiate itself in any way from the rest of the league, you have to wonder about the longer-term future of this core.

The good news for that core is it has a chance over the next four weeks to erase a truly ugly start to the calendar year. The bad news is if it can’t dig out of this rut, I fear Winnipeg’s front office may have to seriously reevaluate the roster in what could be their first busy off-season in a long, long time.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference