We’d been hearing rumors for a while now that Ondrej Pavelec might not be long for Winnipeg or, indeed, the National Hockey League.
As recently as a few weeks ago, it was rumored that the KHL had expressed in interest in the Jets’ Czech goaltender and was, as is the league’s wont, willing to offer him a bunch of money. That seemed reasonable enough. Pavelec is a decent enough goaltender behind a very bad team who, given the quality of the KHL, could become a dominant force in the way that Kari Ramo has been for the last two seasons. This is a league, after all, in which Kevin Dallman is unequivocally the best two-way defenseman, having scored no fewer than 12 goals and 39 points in 53 or more games. Kevin Dallman.
And that was all well and good, because he’s going to be a restricted free agent after having cost slightly more than a million dollars against the cap last season, and was more or less universally adjudged to have been the Jets’ team MVP, faint praise though that might have been. Pretty good reason to go seeking a raise, for sure.
But then word filtered out this week, spurred by a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger (starting about 3:00 in here), who would know this kind of thing, that the Jets and Pavelec had hit a bit of a tough spot. “Messy,” in fact. That’s because the KHL offer is for a considerable amount of money, and for just one year, but expires on July 1, when he would officially become an RFA. To that end, Dreger added this detail later on, via his own Twitter account.
Pavelec is pending RFA with a big $ offer from KHL. It will take $4mil\multi years to keep him in NHL. Pay or trade him…Jets only options.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 19, 2012
Yes, $4 million a season, for multiple years. He won’t take less than that, and one assumes that, if he’s dealt, it would be prior to the expiration of his KHL offer before free agency begins in earnest. But the question I have is a pretty simple one:
Uhh, excuse me, what?
Look, it’s not like we don’t live in a world of silly, silly hockey contracts. (Look at half the Maple Leafs.) But at the same time, a line-in-the-sand, meet-it-or-I’m-gone demand for FOUR MILLION DOLLARS from Ondrej Pavelec is, frankly, bonkers. Since reading that Tuesday morning, I’ve been trying quite hard to figure out how this kind of demand is justifiable beyond, “There’s a comparable offer from the KHL and the media here loves me,” and I’ve come up empty.
Let’s look at the simple facts. The following goaltenders currently make the kind of money Ondrej Pavelec does: Jonas Hiller (NHL All-Star), Rick DiPietro (okay, well…), Marc-Andre Fleury (Cup winner, All-Star), Tim Thomas (résumé speaks for itself), Roberto Luongo (same), Ilya Bryzgalov (occasional Vezina candidate), Miikka Kiprusoff (Vezina winner), Niklas Backstrom (ummm), Ryan Miller (former best goalie in the world), Cam Ward (Conn Smythe and Cup winner), Henrik Lundqvist (top-two goaltender alive), Pekka Rinne (Vezina finalist). By comparison, Pavelec’s accomplishments can be summed up as: “Has one season with a save percentage above .906 and none with a goals-against average south of 2.70.”
Now, here’s a list of those goaltenders whose stats were worse than Ondrej Pavelec’s 2.91 GAA and .906 save percentage, both of which were below league average: Rick DiPietro (3.73 GAA, .876 save percentage). That’s it. If you go to the NHL’s official stats page, Pavelec’s GAA was ranked 66th in the league this year out of 89 goaltenders, including those who played as little as 2:33 (Shawn Hunwick). His save percentage was 60th. These are not, admittedly, the most telling statistics. The Jets weren’t a very good hockey team and as a result, it is perhaps unfair to judge him on these simple criteria.
So okay, let’s try the one tried-and-true statistic that most experts lean on when it comes to goaltender evaluation: save percentage at even strength.
Pavelec’s save percentage when the teams were skating at even strength was .917, which looks okay. But then you have to realize that even strength save percentages are usually quite a bit higher than the flat total, and that’s borne out in Pavelec’s ranking in this category coming in at 48th in the NHL. However, that’s a little better among the goaltenders with whom he’s seeking a comparable salary; both Fleury and Hiller had worse numbers in this regard, as did DiPietro (rather predictably).
So here’s my advice to the Winnipeg Jets: Trade him. Trade him right now, for anything you can get. Which probably won’t be much given the situation and his frankly absurd demands. He wants his salary nearly quadrupled.
There are quite literally more than 40 goaltenders that played in the NHL last season who can do a better job than Pavelec did, at least statistically. You will get killed for it in the local media, because those scribes spent the entire season throwing roses at Pavelec like a triumphant matador after every routine save. The fawning paeans and plaudits to Pavelec’s below-average season-long performances suggest a starry-eyed group of people so deliriously happy to have and NHL team in their long-abandoned city that they’d have let Peter Budaj, he of the .923 even strength save percentage, parade through the city like a conquering hero. They are not in any way reflective of a group of people who watched hockey with any sort of objectivity. The common refrain is that Pavelec was a superlative goaltender behind a subpar team, but that narrative is so thin it’s transparent.
Objectively, Pavelec is and always has been a below-average goaltender (his best-ever season was 2010-11, when his even strength save percentage was 25th-best in the league). Giving him anything close to what he reportedly “requires” to stay in the league would be a phenomenal waste of money. Go pick up a goalie, pretty much any one of them, on the free agent market.