Let's talk Connor Hellebuyck
The New Jersey Devils are reportedly interested in the star goaltender. But should they be?
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With the 2023 NHL Entry Draft less than a week away, the rumor mill is kicking into high gear.
The latest and greatest has the New Jersey Devils linked to marquee goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who would like to move on from the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s not surprising to see the Devils at least sniffing around. They have a fantastic, young team in place and goaltending is the one area that’s seen as a wild card.
With a high-end netminder available, it makes sense to at least examine the possibility. But is a Hellebuyck trade something Tom Fitzgerald should seriously pursue?
Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.
The case for Hellebuyck
We always talk about how goaltending is a crap shoot and there are maybe five goaltenders who can consistently be relied upon to provide quality play year after year. Hellebuyck is one of the five.
He has stopped at least 13 goals above expectation in three straight seasons, including a ridiculous +33.62 GSAx this past year.
During that three year window, Hellebuyck saved more than 62 goals above expectation. The only netminders above him are Ilya Sorokin, Igor Shesterkin, and Juuse Saros.
Andrei Vasilevski is right behind Hellebuyck in 5th, and there’s a drop off the size of Kevin Bahl after that.
I always stress how the Devils don’t need great goaltending to win. They just need good goaltending. They proved that this season, finishing 3rd in points despite ranking 11th in total save percentage and 24th vs. high-danger shots.
But it’s fun to imagine how high the ceiling would be with a true difference maker between the pipes.
With Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, et all, scoring is not going to be an issue. The defense looks very formidable as well, with the potential to be great for a long time with Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec set to make an impact sooner rather than later.
We can say with near certainty the Devils skater group will be one of the best in the league next year and beyond. If the same can be said about the goaltending, the sky really is the limit for the Devils.
While Hellebuyck is now on the wrong side of 30, it’s not as if he is immediately going to turn into a pile of dust and be worthless over the course of a long-term extension.
Frederik Andersen ranks 7th in GSAx over the past two years. He turns 34 in October.
Darcy Kuemper ranks 8th in GSAx over the past two years. He is 33.
Even after Jacob Markstrom’s down campaign, he sits 11th in GSAx over the past two years. He is 33.
Antti Raanta didn’t carry a starter’s workload but he slots 5th in high-danger save percentage over the past two years. He is 34.
And previously elite goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury have played well at advanced ages.
Suffice to say, there is precedent for expecting a good goaltender to remain, well, good in his 30s.
The objective in hockey is to win the Stanley Cup. While there are no guarantees, the Devils’ chances of winning next year would be higher with Hellebuyck on the roster – and the same can likely be said for several seasons.
With the salary cap expected to rise significantly in the coming years, the Devils would have an easier time fitting another lucrative deal than previously thought.
That’s not to say the Devils should be committing eight years to Hellebuyck or giving him a blank check. But Hellebuyck’s career earnings will sit above $47 million after the upcoming season.
If he were willing to sacrifice some term/dollars for the right fit and sign for, say, $8.5 million over five years (that’s 42.5M, which would take him to nearly $90 million in earnings) then it’s a lot easier to make a case.
The case against Hellebuyck
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