Hutchinson may be Jets’ back-up plan

Winnipeg signs St. John’s IceCaps netminder to two-year, two-way contract

Published on July 3, 2014

The Winnipeg Jets signed goaltender Michael Hutchinson to a two-year deal on Wednesday. General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said the 24-year-old, “has earned the opportunity to compete for the back-up job.”

©— Photo by The Canadian Press

A day after Winnipeg Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Michael Hutchinson has earned the right to be in the competition for an NHL job next season, the Jets’ demonstrated some faith in the 24-year-old goaltender by signing him to a two-year, $1.15 million contract.
However, the structure of the contract, announced on Wednesday by the Jets, shows a big-league position as Ondrej Pavelec’s back-up is far from assured for Hutchinson, who helped the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps all the way to the Calder Cup final this spring.

Hutchinson had been a restricted free agent who had received a qualifying offer from Winnipeg a couple of days ago, meaning the Jets retained negotiating rights.

The deal will count $575,000 against the NHL’s salary cap for each of the two years if he remains in Winnipeg. But while Hutchinson will get that salary in the second year, no matter where he plays, the first year of the contract has a two-way component, meaning he’ll make less if he’s assigned to the AHL.

That’s not an unusual contract for the Jets; it’s the same sort of deal they gave defenceman Paul Postma a couple of years ago and which was offered to rearguard Zach Redmond before Redmond — who was an unrestricted free agent — accepted a two-year, full one-way contract with the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

And the fact it is a two-way contract next year doesn’t preclude Hutchinson starting next season with the Jets — and he would need to clear waivers to be sent to the minors. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that Winnipeg opened last season with a roster that featured just three players on two-ways: teenagers Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, both on entry-level deals, and forward Matt Halischuk.

Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice has already indicated Pavelec will be his No. 1 netminder entering the season, while Pavelec’s backup from 2013-14, Al Montoya, has signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers. Earlier this week, Cheveldayoff indicated Hutchinson is in line to take over for Montoya, but that Winnipeg might bring in another netminder to challenge for that position.

“Hutch has earned the opportunity to compete for the back-up job; we feel strongly about that,” said Cheveldayoff, “but there may be some other scenarios that still present themselves to another person being in the mix for that competition.”

Hutchinson had been signed as an unrestricted free agent by Winnipeg last year after three seasons with the Boston Bruins, who had made him a third-round draft pick out of the OHL in 2008. The Barrie, Ont., native began last season with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, but was promoted full-time to the IceCaps in January and soon took over as St. John’s No. 1 goalie after Eddie Pasquale opted for season-ending hip surgery.

In 24 regular-season appearances with the IceCaps, Hutchinson had a 17-5-1 record, 2.30 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He had even better numbers in the playoffs, where he had a 12-9 record, 1.95 GAA and .938 save percentage, as St. John’s went to the league final, losing in five games to the Texas Stars,

Hutchinson made his NHL debut with Winnipeg in early April and would up playing three games for the Jets, going 2-1-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.