The Winnipeg Jets were desperate for goaltending help last July, and as a result invested in veteran free agent Steve Mason. The bad news? Mason wasn’t the answer for the club and has another year left on his contract that pays him $4,100,000 per season.
The good news? The Jets found their goaltender in the form of Connor Hellebuyk, who went 44-11-9 with a .924 SV% for the Jets this season. He’s a Vezina Trophy finalist this spring and is leading Winnipeg in the Stanley Cup Playoffs currently.
Lost in this shuffle is Michael Hutchinson, who was an NHL regular for the Jets during the 2016-17 season. After a bit of a tough go, Hutchinson found himself in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose this season. Instead of pout, Hutchinson was one of the AHL’s best goalies and is heading to market this July.
Why Is He Out There?:
There is no doubt now, Winnipeg’s franchise goalie is Connor Hellebuyk. After a disastrous first season with the Jets, no one is going to touch Steve Mason’s final year, so it is safe to assume the Jets will use him as their backup option heading into October.
Hutchinson isn’t going to re-sign to be the third man in the organization, and will almost certainly be looking for an NHL job this summer. After his work in the minors, it is safe to assume some team is going to give him that job. He earned it.
With no room at the inn in Winnipeg, it makes sense that Hutchinson will hit the road as a free agent.
What Does He Do Well?:
Hutchinson has proven to be a strong goaltending option at the minor-league level throughout his career. This season’s .935 SV% in the AHL, combined with a 17-5-1 record in 26 appearances, isn’t overly surprising. After all, this is a goaltender who posted seasons of .923 (2013-14), .914 (2012-13) and .927 (2011-12) in the AHL earlier in his career.
It’s the NHL numbers that leave something to be desired, admittedly. Hutchinson only ended up in the AHL this season because he struggled in the NHL during the 2016-17 campaign. That year, with the Jets, he posted a 9-12-3 record in 28 appearances with a .903 SV% and a 2.92 GAA.
Hutchinson’s best NHL season came back in 2014-15 when he went 21-10-5 with a .914 SV% and 2.39 GAA. That success in the NHL didn’t last.
Here’s a look at Hutchinson’s scouting report via The Hockey News.
Assets: Mirrors shooters well and gets into his butterfly quickly, using good mobility and quickness for his long frame. Since he is rare–he catches with his right hand–he is hard for many shooters to read.
Flaws: Sometimes gets too deep into his crease when he could be cutting off angles and challenging shooters more. Could be more aggressive in general, and must show he can be more consistent.
Career Potential: Solid goaltender with a little upside.
Where Will He Play/Where Should He Play?:
If the Oilers were to sign Hutchinson, it would be to compete with Al Montoya for the backup job in Edmonton. I know guaranteeing players a role is taboo in hockey, but I’d imagine Hutchinson wouldn’t sign somewhere unless he had some sort of guarantee that he’d get NHL time after the disappointment of this season.
I’m not sure if Hutchinson is an NHL-level backup. He’s surely borderline, but recent history in the league suggests he is a below average option. Yes, in theory he could fill this hole, but it almost seems like he is best suited to being a workhorse at the AHL level.
What Will He Cost:
A one-year deal likely is all Hutchinson will be able to garner as a free agent this summer. In terms of salary, Hutchinson made $1,150,000 on the cap in each of the last two years. In terms of actual money, he made $1,300,000 this past season.
After a year largely spent in the AHL (Only three NHL appearances), a salary around $1,000,000 will almost certainly be enough for this player. It’s an affordable option.
Michael Hutchinson is a very interesting free agent option. He’s a proven goalie in the AHL, but has had his fair share of struggles at the NHL-level. At age 28, he likely is what he is at this point. That’s a high-level number three goaltender for an NHL team.
If the Oilers didn’t have Al Montoya, I’d be all for signing Hutchinson this July. That said, I’m not sure Hutchinson is an upgrade on Montoya by any means, and it seems like he’s a very similiar netminder to Laurent Brossoit, who many think is as good as gone from the Oilers.
Interesting, but I’d take a pass on Hutchinson this summer if I were the Oilers. In fact, after drafting him in 2008 with Boston, Peter Chiarelli has already taken a pass on this player by not qualifying him as an RFA in 2013.