The Winnipeg Jets’ 2020-21 season was full of ups and downs and ended with a second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Connor Hellebuyck enjoyed another strong season in the crease for the Winnipeg Jets.
Once again a huge presence between the pipes, the big-bodied netminder was a key reason his team made the playoffs in a season where many predicted they’d be on the North Division bubble.
Coming off a Vezina Trophy win for his heroics in 2019-20, everyone knew Hellebuyck would be leaned on once again, given the Jets didn’t improve their shaky defensive core in any substantial way in the offseason. And he stepped up.
Hellebuyck Was a Workhorse Again
The 28-year-old was a trotted out more often than any other goaltender as he started a league-high 45 games. In those games, he posted a 24-17-3 record, 2.58 GAA, .916 SV%, four shutouts, and 25 quality starts. He was also first in shots against and saves.
His numbers were even better in eight playoff games, with a 2.23 GAA, .931 SV%, and one shutout.
Some more advanced stats give a clearer picture of just how valuable he was: his expected GAA was 3.03, which shows how many shots he stopped that by all means should have gone in. He also ranked second in the league in Goals Saved Above Average (13.72) and Wins Above Replacement (8.9).
Despite this, he was snubbed a chance to be a repeat Vezina winner, with nominations going to the Colorado Avalanche’s Philipp Grubauer, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Fleury ultimately took home the award.
Related: Hellebuyck a Glaring Omission from Vezina Trophy Finalists
Hellebuyck Highly-Regarded Among His Teammates
Even though the league’s GMs who voted on Vezina finalists didn’t give him the respect he deserved, Hellebuyck’s contributions were not lost on his teammates. They often described how much confidence they have in his skills and his ability to bail them out.
“Our confidence is directly tied to him,” Blake Wheeler offered after Hellebuyck shut out the Oilers on his 28th birthday on May 19. “The way he carries himself gives us confidence every single night. We know that goaltending means a lot this time of year and we have we believe the best goaltender in the league. That gives us a ton of confidence.”
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that he stays very even-keeled no matter what,” defenseman Dylan DeMelo said in May. “When he’s playing great he stays the same way as when he maybe lets in a few soft ones and gets pulled… He’s got that confidence that kind of trickles down to our whole team. Playing in front of him is a lot of fun. You know he’s there to have your back.”
(From ‘Jets Have a Helly of a chance,’ Winnipeg Free Press, May 16, 2021.)
“With Helly, you just realize how good he really is. Just a top, top goalie in this league and in the world. We’re very lucky to have him,” DeMelo continued.
“Obviously Helly’s a very confident guy,” fellow defenceman Josh Morrissey offered. “He’s always been a confident guy. From the first day I met him, he just has that confident presence which I think is such a great thing to have in your goaltender. I think it just sort of radiates out to the team.”
Hellebuyck Believes the Jets Can Accomplish More
Proving Morrissey’s assessment correct, Hellebucyk said at the Jets’ end-of-season media availability that he believes they are “very close to being able to make runs and being a dynasty.” After getting his Vezina nomination last season, he went on record saying that while individual accolades are nice, his only true goal is to win the Stanley Cup.
To get Hellebucyk that Cup, the Jets will need to address a number of issues this offseason, issues that were completely exposed in their second-round sweep at the hands on the Montreal Canadiens. That includes their too-often-subpar defence, forward combinations that consistently get caved in at five-on-five, and their over-reliance on Hellebuyck himself, even though he’s more often than not up to the task.
Related: Kevin Cheveldayoff End-of-Season Media Availability: Highlights and Impressions
Indeed, the Jets have many issues to fix — but with Hellebuyck still having three years left on the six-year contract he signed in 2018 — goaltending is not one of them. By all indications, his $6.16 AAV will continue to be money well spent.
Final Grade: A
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.