Who will win the Winnipeg Jets' backup job?

By Chris Dubiel

Ondrej Pavelec started 67 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, logging close to a whopping 4,000 minutes between the pipes. He posted an underwhelming stat line of 29-28-9 with a 2.91 GAA and .906 SV% but was paid handsomely this summer. One reason Pavelec may have had an inconsistent season was fatigue caused by making so many starts.

Usually when a goalie is given such a hefty workload it’s because he’s an elite, freak-of-nature type of athlete, or because the head coach doesn’t trust his backup. There were times when the veteran Chris Mason came in and did a solid job for the Jets but it didn’t happen on a consistent enough basis. Backup goalies have a tough job: be ready to step in and play a few times a month and give the team a chance to win. However, Mason didn’t always take advantage of his opportunities when he got them.

The Jets will have different look in net whenever this season starts as Mason went on to sign with the Nashville Predators, the team with which Pekka Rinne made an obscene 72 starts last season. Meanwhile Winnipeg brought in a couple of younger guys with limited NHL experience but decent upside to battle for the backup job in Al Montoya and Mark Dekanich.

Montoya showed some promise in spurts with the New York Islanders, backing up Evgeni Nabokov. Mark Dekanich was set to push Steve Mason with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Dekanich couldn’t escape the injury bug and derailed what looked to have been his first full season in the NHL.

Whenever training camp does roll around, the battle to be the man in the ball cap on the Jets’ bench figures to be one of the most interesting storylines of the preseason. Both goalies have gone through a lot (changing teams, injuries) to stay close to a shot at an NHL job and they know that there won’t be any guarantees.

Based purely on experience, I would have to say that Al Montoya is the front-runner for the job, but it’s far from a lock. Dekanich was all but penciled in to be Columbus’ backup before he got hurt and appears ready to compete in the bigs. The competition in camp will foster a healthy environment and hopefully one of these guys can eat up enough minutes so that Pavelec isn’t running on fumes by season’s end.

Even though the names Montoya and Dekanich won’t get too many fans excited, they could be one of the keys to the Jets’ success in 2012-13.

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