Eddie Pasquale officially left the Winnipeg Jets’ organization over the weekend. In truth, his departure began four months ago.
Pasquale, the 23-year-old goalie who became a fan favourite in St. John’s over three seasons with American Hockey League IceCaps, was traded by the Jets to the Washington Capitals on Saturday during the National Hockey League Entry Draft in a deal that basically netted Winnipeg two seventh-round picks, one this year and another in 2015. Washington and Winnipeg also exchanged picks in the sixth round of this year’s draft as part of the trade.
Pasquale had begun the 2013-14 season as the IceCaps’ starting goalie and third on the Jets’ depth chart, but his future in the organization came into question in February after he opted for season-ending surgery to fix a nagging hip injury. That opened the door for Michael Hutchinson, who took over the No. 1 job with St. John’s and excelled in the role, leading the IceCaps all the way to the Calder Cup final, where they lost in five games to the Texas Stars.
Both goalies are set to become restricted free agents this week, and while it is almost a certainty Winnipeg will look to retain Hutchinson, there didn’t appear to be much room for Pasquale. The Jets’ netminding stable includes NCAA Division One goalie of the year Connor Hellebuyck and Jussi Olkinuora, who spent half the 2013-14 season with St. John’s. Both are under contract, as is WHL star and 2013 second-round draft pick Eric Comrie, one of a number of other Winnipeg netminding prospects in the amateur ranks.
Hutchinson is expected to be given an opportunity to be the backup to Ondrej Pavelec in Winnipeg in 2014-15, but it is likely the Jets will also bring in another veteran goalie — either signed or on a tryout basis — for their training camp this fall. Know this much: Both Hellebuyck and Olkinuora will be listed as AHL rookies at the start of this season, and in their three years in the league, the IceCaps have never started a campaign without a netminder who didn’t have three or more years of pro experience. Think Peter Mannino, David Aebischer and Mark Dekanich.
That experienced goalie might have been Pasquale — the Jets could have simply kept his rights by making him a qualifying offer — but there was a real sense his decision to undergo surgery and cut short his season wasn’t one that had the full support of the organization, and probably lessened the possibility of him being kept on.
There was no outright criticism of Pasquale, either on or off the record, but in February, during any interview that touched on St. John’s goaltending — whether it was with IceCaps’ had coach Keith McCambridge or someone else in the Winnipeg organization — it was made clear the choice for surgery had been made by Pasquale and his agent, Anton Thun, not the Jets.
In late February, just days before he underwent the operation, Pasquale spoke about his situation.
“It wasn’t an easy decision (to have the surgery), and even after I made it, I really didn’t know if I had made the right one.
“You never want to be sitting and watching your teammates playing without you. But your agent looks out for you and knows what’s best for you,” he said.
Initially, said Pasquale, his impending free agency wasn’t a consideration, but that changed with Thun’s counsel.
“As a player, that doesn’t cross your mind,” he said, “but I’m lucky to have a good agent who is looking out for my future. If he hadn’t talked me into io it, I think I would have played until it fell right off.
“I tried to play through (the hip injury), but I knew there was something wrong and I knew I would need to have something done to fix it.
“I tried to wait until the end of the year, but the pain was getting too hard and other parts of the body weren’t working the way they should have and other injuries started to happen.
“One issue became another issue. I thought I could push through. I wanted to push through, but too much was going wrong.”
Pasquale, a native of Toronto, was a fourth-round draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 and turned pro in 2010 with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
After the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and the Jets established their farm team in St. John’s, Pasquale emerged from a three-goalie logjam to become the starter in 2011-12, posting a 23-12-1 record with four shutouts and 2.41 goal-against average for the IceCaps.
That was good enough to earn him the nod as the goalie on the AHL’s all-rookie team and St. John’s rookie of the year award.
It also earned him the admiration of IceCaps’ fans, who chanted “Eddie, Eddie!” in praise of their hero and “Eddie’s better!” to mock opposition goaltenders.
In three seasons with St. John’s, Pasquale had an overall record of 55-48-6, with a 2.54 GAA and nine shutouts. That included a line of 17-13-1 and 2.43 GAA last season.
Although he has spent time on recall to the Jets, Pasquale has yet to play in an NHL game.
Reports indicate the Capitals want to sign a free-agent goalie with NHL experience to back up No. 1 netminder Braden Holtby, allowing Phillipp Grubauer, who split last season between Washington and the AHL’s Hershey Bears, to play more often in the minors.
With veteran David Leggio, who made 60 per cent of the starts for the Bears last season, about to become an unrestricted free agent, it would seem the idea is to have Grubauer and Pasquale — who has been given a qualifying offer by the Capitals — share the workload in Hershey, although both will be involved for in competition for a job in Washington.