For the longest time, the talk in Winnipeg was how to move on from Ondrej Pavelec.
Amazing what a pair of wins can do.
Since being recalled from the AHL last week, Pavelec has backstopped the Jets to back-to-back victories — stopping 64 of 70 shots, for a .914 save percentage — and now, both he and the organization are being asked about a potential return next season.
In the fall, he accepted his demotion to the AHL with humility and class and has been a calming presence since returning to the Jets last week.
A scenario where Pavelec would serve as an experienced, lower cost No. 2 behind the anointed No. 1, Connor Hellebuyck, doesn’t seem completely far-fetched.
Pavelec told the Free Press he’s not thinking about next year, but did admit “I’m gonna be a free agent, I guess, for the first time.”
Head coach Paul Maurice was also vague about the future, but slightly more optimistic.
“Everything is possible,” Maurice explained. “There’s so much that’s transpired, there’s so much good for Ondrej to look forward to — that will be taken care of at that time.”
Maurice added that getting back into the NHL, and winning games, was the “start to the possibilities” for Pavelec’s future.
Look, there’s no denying Pavelec hasn’t been good and, accordingly, faced a ton of heat from fans and media over the last few seasons. But a significant chunk of that was fueled by his five-year, $19.5 million contract — a deal that was came under scrutiny the moment it was signed. As each year passed, the contract looked worse and worse, and things reached a fever pitch back in October, when Pavelec passed through waivers unclaimed and landed in the minors.
The contract expires in July and, without that financial albatross, the narrative around Pavelec changes. Especially if he puts together a decent run over the final three months of this season.
And this is why the aforementioned bring-him-back-on-the-cheap idea was floated. There’s little chance the Jets re-enter next season with the Hellebuyck-Hutchinson tandem, or putting Hellebuyck in tandem with another young, inexperienced guy.
The problem, though, would be location.
While it’s possible Pavelec will emerge as a inexpensive, useful veteran backup, there could be too much history for it to happen in Winnipeg.