WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck said he wants to achieve the ultimate goal after the Winnipeg Jets goalie won the Vezina Trophy last season.
“Now the only one that matters is the Stanley Cup,” Hellebuyck said Wednesday. “I’d love to win another Vezina, that would be great, but it’s time. I’m in my prime, this team’s in its prime, it’s time to win a Stanley Cup and every day has to be building toward that.”
Hellebuyck was voted the best goalie in the NHL by general managers last season after going 31-21-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He allowed two goals or fewer in 32 of his 58 games and was first in shutouts (six), first in shots faced (1,796) and saves (1,656) and was tied for first in games played with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
Winnipeg had a .563 points percentage (37-28-6) when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, then lost to the Calgary Flames in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
The Jets haven’t won a Stanley Cup Playoff series in the past two seasons after they reached the Western Conference Final in 2018, when they lost the best-of-7 series to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
“It doesn’t have to happen today, but tomorrow’s got to be a better version of yourself than you were today,” Hellebuyck said.
He said he’s willing put in the work to get that done and believes he’s capable of starting at least 40 games in this 56-game regular season. Winnipeg will play in the Scotia North Division with the six other NHL teams based in Canada (Calgary, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks). The top four teams in the division will qualify for the playoffs.
The Jets open this season at home against the Flames on Jan. 14.
“We’ve briefly talked about it and I’m a guy that likes to play a lot so I would like to get 40-45 games, but who knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “I could get even hotter and I can [play] even more, or I’ll be very hot and could be in a playoff spot and then we could start riding [backup goalie Laurent Brossoit] a bit to give me some rest. So, it depends on how the season plays out, but I would like to be somewhere in the 40-45 range.”
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice laughed when informed about Hellebuyck’s wish to start 40-45 games this season. Hellebuyck played in 58 of the Jets’ 71 games last season; he made 56 starts.
“He’s a gamer, man. He’s competitive,” Maurice said.
Maurice said he’s like to see the Jets be more responsible defensively than last season, when they were 10th in the NHL in goals against per game (2.83) despite allowing the seventh most shots per game (32.6). He said he believes that their additions of two veteran centers and a defenseman will be a key factor in Hellebuyck’s workload and the quality of chances he may face.
Center Paul Stastny was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 9 for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and center Nate Thompson signed a one-year contract Oct 10. Defenseman Derek Forbort signed a one-year contract Oct. 9.
“[Stastny and Thompson], that’s just like adding two NHL defensemen,” Maurice said. “So I think we are going to be far better in terms of what we ask of Connor Hellebuyck, but our expectation is that he will be a difference-maker for us and we’re going to need him to be.”