So, Ondrej Pavelec Kinda Sucks

On July 1st, the Rangers began their foray into the league-wide unrestricted free agency spending spree by signing former Winnipeg Jets netminder, Ondrej Pavelec. The 29 year-old native of Kladno, Czech Republic replaces fan and team favorite Antti Raanta who provided the Rangers with two solid years back-stopping Henrik Lundqvist. Raanta was included in the Derek Stepan trade with the Arizona Coyotes that left the Rangers with massive holes at the first-line center and backup goaltender positions.

Pavelec comes to the Rangers on a one-year, $1.3 million “show me” contract, and he has a lot to prove. He is fresh off an injury-riddled 2016-2017 season that saw him lose his spot in the Jets lineup and ended with him having knee surgery in March. In what few games he did play, he was not impressive – going 4-4-0 in eight games with a .888 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.55 goals against average (GAA). “Not impressive” has pretty much been the story of Pavelec’s career. Of the 48 active goaltenders who played 100 games or more, he ranks 43rd in save percentage (.907) and 44th in goals against average (2.87).

Now you might say, “Why spend so much time diving into a backup goalie’s stats? Who cares?” Well, Rangers’ backup goalies have played a major role in the last few seasons. Cam Talbot appeared in 21 and 36 games in his two seasons with the Rangers – including his 24-game stint filling in for an injured Lundqvist in the latter half of 2014-2015 season. Raanta played 25 and 30 games in his respective seasons as a Blueshirt – with a nine-game stretch as starter when Lundqvist spent time recovering from a minor hip injury last season. Talbot posted a record of 33-15-5 with a .931 SV% and a 2.00 GAA while Raanta went 27-14-4 with a.921 SV% and a 2.26 GAA.

It is hard to overstate how absolutely stellar these numbers are for any goaltender, let alone a backup. On the same token, it is also very apparent how important this level of play from Talbot and Raanta was in the cumulative success of the Rangers’ past four seasons. Lundqvist’s struggles last season were well documented, even seemingly losing his starting job to Raanta for a brief stretch at the mid-point of the season. In what has become a concerning trend since 2013-2014, for whatever reason, each season Lundqvist has gone through stretches where he can’t find the consistency in the net that he built his career on. Further, as much as it pains me to say it, Henrik Lundqvist is 35 years old. The late 30s are not kind to hockey players and especially not goalies, even moreso to ones that have as many miles as Lundqvist has on him. We’ve seen Lundqvist go down to injury two of the last three seasons. The damaged blood vessel was obviously an unfortunate incident, but the hip injury last year was one of those “wear and tear” type issues that could continue to crop up. That’s not to mention the minor knee injury that he sustained playing for Sweden at the IIHF World Championship in May. It’s clear that the further he gets into his career, the more important the supporting cast around him becomes – he cannot do it on his own anymore.

Which brings us back to Ondrej Pavelec. Expectations will certainly be high given the fantastic play of his predecessors. He is going to be called upon to play in at least 20 games. Can he win ten of them? Probably, though that is not exactly a glowing endorsement. Getting about half of the available points is about where I would put his ceiling given his career with a 50% win percentage. Is that good enough for the Rangers to duke it out in the Metropolitan Division and claim a playoff spot? Maybe not. Let’s just say that instead of Raanta going 16-8-2 last season, he went 13-13-0, claiming 26 points instead of 34 (same points percentage as my projection for Pavelec). That would have placed the Rangers on the outside looking in with 94 points. Close but no cigar. The margins are so small, especially in the Metropolitan Division that was a knife fight last season and only looks to have gotten meaner and nastier in the off-season.

It’s not all bad for Pavelec, however. He might enjoy the change of scenery having spent all of his career thus far with the doomed Atlanta Thrashers and yet-to-takeoff Winnipeg Jets franchise. Coming to play for a successful team seeking to break through and win a Stanley Cup could jumpstart his game. Also, the Rangers team he is coming to possesses a shiny, new defense headlined by major free agent signing Kevin Shattenkirk. With improvements to the back-end that should fundamentally improve the Blueshirts’ puck movement and foot-speed, as well as through other additions and subtractions, there could be less pressure on Pavelec (or Lundqvist, for that matter) overall. It’s tough to quantify the level to which these factors may influence matters, but it will bear itself out over the course of next season.

There is one other factor that Rangers fans might point to that would give them hope for Pavelec’s success – Benoit Allaire. He deservedly made a name for himself grooming Lundqvist from a 7th round pick to the Vezina trophy winning goaltender he is today. Allaire also has been given some credit for developing Talbot through the Rangers system and for his work with Raanta.

Despite this praise, I don’t necessarily believe there’s an “Allaire effect” so to speak. When it comes to development within the system, it might be true, but there’s no baseline to compare it to. In the case of Pavelec, have we really seen Allaire re-invent a goalie’s game at an NHL level? The only recent comparison would be Raanta who posted a .912 SV% and a 2.41 GAA with Chicago while going 20-9-5. He was not exactly a goalie in need of a rebirth and his numbers improved only slightly when coming to the Rangers. He was also only 39 games into his career when he was traded to New York – with that small of a sample size, it’s impossible to tell what effect Allaire may or may not have had.

Pavelec, on the other hand, has played 379 games, many of them lackluster, in his career thus far. He comes to the Rangers scarred after losing his starting job a few seasons ago and then, last season, losing his backup job. I would not hold my breath in hopes of any sort of emergence as a reliable goaltender. His career stats are not kind to him, even in the limited role he has played these past few seasons in Winnipeg.

For the Rangers to succeed, lately, they have relied on strong performances from Henrik Lundqvist and, when that is not possible, his trusty side kick – Talbot, Raanta, and now Ondrej Pavelec. I fear that Pavelec will not be able to elevate his game to the level of play necessary to consistently win games in Lundqvist’s absence – be it due to injury, poor play, or just regularly scheduled time off. In an increasingly competitive Metropolitan Division with an ever aging Lundqvist, it is more important than ever to have a strong backup goaltender. And if history is any indicator, Pavelec is not the guy for the job.

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  1. After some "Allairing" out with the Rangers, I expect we will see a new, improved goaltender who will be an effective backup to Hank this season
    Sent from my LG-H830 using Tapatalk
    I think playing and practicing with Lundqvist and getting what seems like it would be better goalie coaching should have a good effect on Pavelec, who in my recollection has always had bright spots mixed in with bad habits.
    josh
    He's still younger than Talbot.
    His 2 seasons prior to last year are comparable to Talbots 2 seasons in edmonton.

    Younger than Talbot is now, yes.
    Pavelec
    2015/16 - 33 GP, .904 SV%, 2.78 GAA
    2014/15 - 50 GP, .920 SV%, 2.28 GAA
    Talbot
    2016/17 - 73 GP, .919 SV%, 2.39 GAA
    2015/16 - 56 GP, .917 SV%, 2.55 GAA
    So while Pavelec three years ago had a comparable (even slightly better statistical) season to Talbot last year, Cam played in 23 more games, so there's a consistency to look at. Especially when you factor in the rest of Pavelec's seasons both prior and after that. He had that one very strong season, but the rest has been below par to terrible.
    Morphinity
    He wouldn't be the first guy with a big NHL contract who sucked. He's one of the worst active goaltenders statistically. He isn't good, especially compared to all the other goaltenders in this league.
    If he doesn't pan out the Rangers might MISS THE PLAYOFFS. These backup goaltender signings are a huge deal. They play 20+ games nowadays, not 10 like they used to when Lundqvist's equipment was huge and he was coming top-3 in Vezina voting in his sleep.
    The point is they didn't need to sign scrap heap junk. They had Raanta signed for one more season at a lower cost than what they're paying Pavelec.

    But who were they getting that was better? Mason? Nilsson? There wasn't a guy that was cut loose early. I'm not aware of a young goalie available in trade for cheap.
    This guy was a starter for years. Hes got all the tools to be a decent goalie as is. With some help he could put it all together. It may even be a concentration issue. I've seen this guy make some of the most incredible saves, but then he will let in some infuriating weak goals. Reminds me of someone else......
    The season in no way, hangs on the back up goalies record. And as I said if he isn't good, get another one. It will be obvious by December if he's performing at a level good enough for what they need.
    If there was a better option at this price I'd like to hear who it was/is.
    AmericanJesus
    These were 26 year old goaltenders just getting their start at the NHL level verses Pavelec whom is what, 30? And Pavelec has been in the league since he was 20. He's had one pretty strong season out of his last seven or so. He's largely a ruined goaltender by a poor franchise who rushed him along. I'm not saying he can't be saved...but I wouldn't expect it.

    He's still younger than Talbot.
    His 2 seasons prior to last year are comparable to Talbots 2 seasons in edmonton.
    The Dude
    The title is a little rough no? The guy doesn't suck, and had a big NHL contract for a reason. Some tinkering with his game and an understood role of being the back up, should be just fine. It's 1.3 mill. If he fails, he goes to Hartford. Sign another one. There's a billion goalies available.
    This idea of how every player the Rangers bring in MUST be young, is getting out of control. You aren't going to keep finding young goalies with potential on the cheap. The rest of the market were all failed starters in their late 20's and older.
    They struck gold with Talbot and Raanta. This scrap heap project is a low risk signing. If he doesn't pan out. Oh well. Go sign the next scrap heap junk that's out there.

    He wouldn't be the first guy with a big NHL contract who sucked. He's one of the worst active goaltenders statistically. He isn't good, especially compared to all the other goaltenders in this league.
    If he doesn't pan out the Rangers might MISS THE PLAYOFFS. These backup goaltender signings are a huge deal. They play 20+ games nowadays, not 10 like they used to when Lundqvist's equipment was huge and he was coming top-3 in Vezina voting in his sleep.
    The point is they didn't need to sign scrap heap junk. They had Raanta signed for one more season at a lower cost than what they're paying Pavelec.
    Morphinity
    Part of the issue here was the poor crop of free agent goaltenders available, and even those available by trade. I don't see the point in trading Raanta if Pavelec is who you're going to replace him with.
    I know we're all thrilled we got a 7th overall pick, but what happens if Pavelec goes 8-12 next year and we miss the playoffs? Then going into 2018-2019 we got a 36 year old Lundqvist, no more Nash, one year less of Shattenkirk, and still are looking for a backup goalie because Pavelec sucked and he's on a one-year deal.

    They fire AV and get a decent draft position?
    If the season hinges on the back up goalie, then things are really bad here.
    The Rangers obviously didn't get good value in that trade. They made bigger holes than the ones they already had.
    They had to be going into the playoffs KNOWING they wanted to deal Stepan and Raanta before the expansion draft or the draft. How they got so little makes you wonder if they gave it enough thought.
    The title is a little rough no? The guy doesn't suck, and had a big NHL contract for a reason. Some tinkering with his game and an understood role of being the back up, should be just fine. It's 1.3 mill. If he fails, he goes to Hartford. Sign another one. There's a billion goalies available.
    This idea of how every player the Rangers bring in MUST be young, is getting out of control. You aren't going to keep finding young goalies with potential on the cheap. The rest of the market were all failed starters in their late 20's and older.
    They struck gold with Talbot and Raanta. This scrap heap project is a low risk signing. If he doesn't pan out. Oh well. Go sign the next scrap heap junk that's out there.
    Part of the issue here was the poor crop of free agent goaltenders available, and even those available by trade. I don't see the point in trading Raanta if Pavelec is who you're going to replace him with.
    I know we're all thrilled we got a 7th overall pick, but what happens if Pavelec goes 8-12 next year and we miss the playoffs? Then going into 2018-2019 we got a 36 year old Lundqvist, no more Nash, one year less of Shattenkirk, and still are looking for a backup goalie because Pavelec sucked and he's on a one-year deal.
    ThirtyONE
    Not worried. As meantioned above, Talbot was dead and buried in the minors until Biron surprised everyone and retired. Raanta was demoted for Scott Darling the season before coming here. Both resurrected their careers. I don't know if Pavelec will do the same but I expect him to at least be serviceable. And if not, well, then you sign someone else next season.

    These were 26 year old goaltenders just getting their start at the NHL level verses Pavelec whom is what, 30? And Pavelec has been in the league since he was 20. He's had one pretty strong season out of his last seven or so. He's largely a ruined goaltender by a poor franchise who rushed him along. I'm not saying he can't be saved...but I wouldn't expect it.
    Yeah, Raanta wasn't much. Only 20-9-5, nbd. He got demoted to the minors because he had one bad (absolutely atrocious) game and then pouted his way out of Chicago - which is why he didn't get his name on the Cup.
    Talbot definitely surprised a lot of people, but his first stint was with the Rangers.
    But the crux of the issue is that Pavelec isn't even remotely close to those goalies in terms of body of work. He's an NHL veteran with 300+ games under his belt. Most of which were terrible. We're expecting him to all of a sudden have a miraculous turnaround because of... what exactly?
    Respecttheblue
    I think you hit two nails on one head with that Dave.
    I don't know how bad the Jets' defensive play was, but I thought ours was prone to coughing up goals at the worst of times. I look at this as a role of the dice and a move not to invest too much in a lower priority billet for a not exactly very convincing team, combined with a hope that Benoit Allaire can help him be better than he appeared recently.

    Agreed. The unknown is how well next year's defense will fare. Could click the way last year's forwards did, could be an absolute mess if no one generates the right chemistry. Some of this depends on the forwards helping out as well.
    Talbot was considered by many to be Biron's successor. I don't know where this idea of him not being good is coming from. Anyone who watched him knew he had NHL aspirations. He played really well in Hartford while the Whalepack were struggling to do anything defensively or offensively.
    Not worried. As meantioned above, Talbot was dead and buried in the minors until Biron surprised everyone and retired. Raanta was demoted for Scott Darling the season before coming here. Both resurrected their careers. I don't know if Pavelec will do the same but I expect him to at least be serviceable. And if not, well, then you sign someone else next season.
    Talbot was a 25 year old shitty college, ECHL and AHL goalie when called up, and put up his best number (even to date, by far) wearing blue.
    Raanta wasnt much either, even playing in the AHL before coming to NY.
    Valiquette, Biron (at that point in his career), etc etc
    We havent had a good backup since Lundqvist, and Richter before that.