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For the Florida Panthers, Michael Hutchinson could be the perfect fit

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If the Florida Panthers are in the market for a goaltender — and they are, according to reports  — Dale Tallon might want to give the Winnipeg Jets a call.

The Jets hold the keys to the top goaltender without a job in the NHL this season. His name? Michael Hutchinson (a man feared by Chicago Blackhawks fans).

If one thing has become abundantly clear early in this current NHL season, it’s that organizational goaltender depth is something every team should be grooming.

Many teams have, or are currently, figuring out where they stand in this department. The Vegas Golden Knights have been hardest hit, so much so they had to use an emergency recall on a goaltender still trying to find his way in the Western Hockey League earlier year.

But the likes of Carey Price, Matt Murray and, most recently, Roberto Luongo, have given their respective teams no option but to look within (or claim Antti Niemi off waivers, which two of those three teams have done this year). The Canadiens found relief in Charlie Lindgren and Tristan Jarry has been a stud for the Penguins.

But Luongo’s injury might just force the Panthers in a different direction. James Reimer hasn’t been the model of consistency this season and has failed to take the starter’s reins in Florida and run with them. With Luongo on the shelf for the long-term and the fact that looking within isn’t likely to help in the Sunshine State, perhaps a phone call to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff could help turn the Panthers’ fortunes.

Hutchinson has been on a tear with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, where he ranks first in save percentage with a whopping .951 and is second only to Toronto Marlies netminder Garret Sparks in goals-against average with a 1.73. In 11 games played, Hutchinson has lost just once in regulation and holds a 9-1-1 record and his rich vein of form earned him AHL’s goalie of the month honours for November.

Hutchinson has played so well that when Steve Mason went down with a concussion last month, there was a low chance that Hutchinson would be recalled. He simply wouldn’t clear waivers when Mason makes his eventual return and the Jets would be out an asset that looks increasingly likely to garner a decent return.

‘Hutch’ certainly fits the Panthers’ criteria, suggested by TSN insider Bob McKenzie: He’s 27, a young netminder that comes with 99 games of NHL experience including some meaningful action when he helped the Jets secure a playoff spot during the 2014-15 season when Ondrej Pavelec went down with injury, winning 21 games in what was his coming out party.

Hutchinson has cooled off over the past two seasons, playing second fiddle to Pavelec in 2015-16 and then Connor Hellebuyck last season. When the Jets signed Steve Mason on the first day of free agency in July, it was all but assured that Hutchinson would start the season in the AHL and ride out the final year of his contract.

It’s become clear in Winnipeg that Hutchinson didn’t like being sent down. Most don’t. He has yet to give an interview to scribes this season.

But despite being upset, he’s handled it (mostly) the correct way: take it on the chin and go out and be a professional on the ice.

It could end up being the right fit at the right time for both parties. The Panthers need someone to steady the ship. Hutchinson, in the final year of a two-year contract, needs some NHL games to make his case for a spot on an NHL roster next season.

And the Panthers aren’t bringing Niemi back.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Report: Jets bringing journeyman G Leggio to camp on PTO

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David Leggio, who’s spent time with the Sabres, Capitals, Islanders and Coyotes organizations, has reportedly accepted a professional tryout with the Winnipeg Jets, per Buffalo Hockey Beat.

It wasn’t long ago that Leggio, now 31, was a quality AHL netminder. He went 38-24-1 with Rochester during the ’12-13 campaign, compiling a 2.56 GAA and .924 save percentage, but struggled last year between Bridgeport and Portland, and failed to land a contract this summer.

Despite some good showings at the minor-league level, Leggio has also yet to play in an NHL contest.

In Winnipeg, he’ll have a decent shot of earning a new deal. Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are projected to be the club’s No. 1 and No. 2 next season, but they’ll have to stave off the hard-charging Connor Hellebuyck, who played very well for Team USA at the 2015 World Hockey Championships and was recently named the NHL’s No. 1 goaltending prospect by In Goal Magazine.

Leggio should be in line for a backup gig in the American League, especially with veteran Peter Budaj having moved on.

Related: AHL changes rule following Leggio incident

Winnipeg Jets ’15-16 Outlook

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As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.

After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.

Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.

Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?

Aging core –  It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.

For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.

Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.

Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?

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The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.

Jets’ biggest question: Who will take the reins in goal?

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One of the bigger questions for the Winnipeg Jets heading into the 2015-16 season is who will grab the starter’s role in goal and run with it.

Ondrej Pavelec began the 2014-15 season as the Jets’ No. 1 goaltender starting 15 of the first 16 games. He started sharing the net with rookie Michael Hutchinson in late November and lost his starting role by February.

“Ondrej played through some difficult circumstances this year,” Cheveldayoff said per the Winnipeg Sun. “Pro athletes have to learn how to handle those kinds of adversities.”

Pavelec finished the season with a 22-16-8 record while posting a career-best .920 save percentage and a 2.28 G.A.A. in 50 regular season appearances. While the Jets were in the hunt for a playoff spot, Pavelec went 9-2-1 and recorded three shutouts in his final 12 decisions. The 27-year-old struggled again in the playoffs posting an .891 save percentage and a 3.73 G.A.A. as the Jets were swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

Hutchinson finished with 38 appearances last season posting a 21-10-5 record to go along with a 2.39 G.A.A. and .914 save percentage. The 25-year-old had a strong first half, but faltered down the stretch posting an .890 save percentage in his final 15 games.

Despite the inconsistencies, Cheveldayoff believes the Pavelec can be the team’s starter going forward.

“We’re excited to have him as our No. 1 goalie,” Cheveldayoff said during his end-of-season media availability. “We’re really excited to have (Hutchinson) as a guy that can push and continue to do the things that he’s done.”

Jets fans should also expect Connor Hellebuyck to challenge Hutchinson for the backup role at camp this season. Hellebuyck posted a 28-22-5 record to go along with a 2.58 G.A.A. and a .921 save percentage in his rookie season with the St. John’s IceCaps.

The 22-year-old was the starting goaltender at the AHL all-star game and represented the U.S. at the world championship leading the Americans to a third place finish.

Related: Under Pressure: Dustin Byfuglien

It’s Winnipeg Jets day at PHT

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Using the term “close sweep” might start a brawl at the wrong Winnipeg bar, yet it feels like a reasonable depiction of the Jets’ first-round exit.

Whether you agree or disagree about their margin of defeat against the Anaheim Ducks, the bottom line is that if you trace the Jets’ history back to the Thrashers era, the franchise remains at zero playoff wins all-time.

Yes, as in they haven’t ever won a playoff game not a series.

Despite that doom and gloom, Jets were a popular dark horse candidate heading into the 2015 postseason for a reason. They were an impressive possession team by most metrics.

Winnipeg combined an increasingly deep defense corps with its underrated high-end forwards to scare at least a few Western Conference observers. Hey, they even occasionally received competent goaltending, albeit from an uneven mix of Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec.

(There was some poetic justice in Pavelec playing out of his mind down the stretch to get them into the playoffs.)

It all feels empty thanks to the sweep, but the Jets zoomed up a level or two in 2014-15. As wild card berths go, Winnipeg can point to some positives.

Off-season recap

The biggest change technically happened during the season, yet the Evander Kane swap is significant enough to at least get a quick mention.

It’s relevant enough to the summer anyway, as Drew Stafford played well enough to gain a two-year deal that carries a $4.35 million cap hit. Stafford is sticking around, while a surprise return is in store for Alex Burmistrov, who went on a two-year KHL sojourn.

Michael Frolik headlines a group of departing players who helped move the needle a bit depth-wise, also including Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and T.J. Galiardi.

Maybe the most significant off-season storyline is what Winnipeg did not do: Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are currently entering the final season of their respective contracts.