Ondrej Pavelec has had more NHL experience by age 24 than most goaltenders have had in a lifetime. Not all of it has been good — he was relied upon heavily when injury prone Atlanta Thrashers starter Kari Lehtonen went down, and after the trade that sent Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars, Pavelec was going to be the Thrashers’ goalie of tomorrow. As fate would have it, he’s instead the Winnipeg Jets’ goalie of today.
Pavelec’s numbers have steadily improved over the seasons, although his goals against average did take a bit of an uptick this past season. That particular stat has always been abnormally high for a starter, but that’s more towards the Thrashers/Jets inability to form a solid defensive corps than almost anything else. Pavelec also occasionally hasn’t been the best conditioned athlete, at least in his early years, and the pressure of being tossed from the Wolves onto the Thrashers basically cold could have left him shell shocked. He’s still praised as a solid goaltender around media circles, and he is. Consistency isn’t his strong point, however great his abilities are.
That’s something most KHL teams could care less about. When Steve Holt is a starter in your All-Star Game, that screams volumes about the league’s depth at the goaltending position. Evgeny Nabokov was probably the league’s most notable star goalie, and even he managed a lower GAA with the New York Islanders than he did in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. The KHL, while growing leaps and bounds, is significantly more rag-tag than the NHL, even teams with the megabucks like St. Petersburg. Putting together a defensive corps that’s NHL ready is about as likely as the Thrashers ever having done so.
That being said, St. Petersburg has money to spend, and they’re consistently one of the KHL’s most solid teams. Neither of their goaltenders are huge names outside of Russia, so it wouldn’t be shocking for them to want to get some star power back between the pipes. Why not the RFA Pavelec? He’ll be reunited with Maxim Afinogenov and Evgeny Artyukhin, and play for the team that lost in the Western Conference Finals. Not to mention there’s the potential for crazy salary money that he could never get in the NHL.
He’s an RFA, so there’s a possibility he could pull a Radulov, play in the KHL for a while, and return to the Winnipeg Jets in enough time to still be re-signed before his 27th birthday. This’d still be a blow for the Jets organization. Backup Chris Mason is a UFA and while playing better isn’t a viable starter any longer. What would the Jets’ do? Deal for a goalie? Who to deal that isn’t going to further set the team back at another important position?
It’s Pavelec’s responsibility to look out for himself, not the Winnipeg Jets. If he wants the money and wants to win on a smaller stage, he’ll go to the KHL. If he wants to win on a bigger stage and help a franchise that has been perpetually growing win, he’ll stay in North America. It’s his call.