The Winnipeg Jets locked up their goalie of the future, giving restricted free agent netminder Connor Hellebuyck a six-year, $37 million contract, the team announced Thursday.
In 2017-18, his third NHL season, Hellebuyck went 44-11-9 last season with a .924 save percentage and six shutouts, finishing the season tied with Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league lead in wins and setting the mark for victories by an American-born goalie. He joined Vasilevskiy as a finalist for the the Vezina Trophy, though they both finished behind Predators goalie Pekka Rinne in voting.
Hellebuyck shined in the postseason, as well, going 9-8 with a .922 save percentage, backstopping the Jets to the Western Conference Final, which they lost to Stanley Cup runner-up Vegas. Despite falling short, the Winnipeg is expected to be one of the NHL's top teams over the next few seasons, and the 25-year-old Michigan native is a big reason why.
"He's always been projecting in our minds as a No. 1 goaltender and the goaltender of the future for us," GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told media after the deal was announced. "We're very excited that we were able to come to a long-term agreement."
For Hellebucyk, the 2017-18 season saw him vault his way among the league's top goaltenders, but he doesn't plan to rest on his laurels.
"I expect the most out of myself and I want everyone to expect the most out of me because I want to bring my A-plus game every single night," he said. "If it's not A-plus, [hopefully] it's good enough to win. That's the key for this team, everyone wanting to do more."
Hellebuyck now becomes the sixth-highest paid goalie in the league, behind Montreal's Carey Price, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovksy, Rinne and Boston's Tuuka Rask and getting to Hellebuyck's new annual cap hit of $6,166,667 took some figuring out, according to Cheveldayoff.
"Goaltenders are very different to try to get the right ranges and the right comparables in," he said.
The closest comparable recent deals for Hellebuyck, according to CapFriendly are Washington's Braden Holtby, Toronto's Frederik Andersen and Colorado netminder Seymon Varlamov. Teams continue to be willing to pay for top-notch goaltending, and Winnipeg was no different when it came to their developing star in the crease.
"This is exciting for many reasons but mainly because I love it here and I want to be a part of this team," Hellebuyck told reporters. "I really believe this team has what it takes."
The Jets rose among the top teams in the NHL in 2017-18, buoyed by fellow emerging studs Patrik Laine Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, as well as steady veterans Blake Wheelers, Mathieu Perreault and Dustin Byfuglien. Despite the team's breakout season, it'll still have to fight it out in a stacked Central Division that includes the Predators, rebuilt St. Louis Blues and up-and-coming Colorado Avalanche. There's also the matter of signing a number of other RFAs, including forward Marko Dano and Brandon Tanev, as well as defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey this summer.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Cheveldayoff said. "We've got a group of guys that have a lot of to prove. They're young, theyre hungry. There's a good core of veterans that want to lead, a good core of middle players that are drivers and some really, really godo young players that gained some valuable experience. ... I think Connor realizes that and he's part of it."