Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck talks Dubois, trade rumours and quest for the Cup

Kevin Michie takes a closer look at the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, with statistical wunderkind Linus Ullmark, workhorse Connor Hellebuyck, and paddle artist Ilya Sorokin vying for goaltending's top prize.

NASHVILLE – When you pepper Connor Hellebuyck with questions about his uncertain future in Winnipeg, he treats each query like a muffin shot during practice.

He steadily gloves the topic down, stands his ground, and looks you in the eye, waiting to see what else you want to launch at him.

While questions swirl around his crease, his dressing room, and the front office that will be under stress to finalize some significant trades this week in Nashville, Hellebuyck himself is goalie calm.

Does he want to flee a team in transition?

Is he affected by the onslaught of trade rumours and all those good-fit lists?

As an unrestricted free agent in 2024, does he want long term on his next contract?

“I’m gonna be honest. I really haven’t thought a whole lot about the future, because it’s out of my hands. I still have another year left on my deal, and the only thing I can do is do my best every single day,” Hellebuyck said Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena, where he could win a second Vezina Trophy Monday.

“I know there’s a lot of rumours and a lot of speculation going around. But, for me, it doesn’t really matter what happens. I’m in the fate of someone else’s hands. And as of now, I just got to make sure that I play my best and show up every day my best. And that’s what I’m doing.”

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He’s not wrong.

Hellebuyck has zero trade protection heading into the final season of his six-year, $37-million pact with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets.

The only control Hellebuyck has is to not re-sign an extension prior to free agency, which appears to be the same strategy as fellow stars Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele (also UFA in 2024). The onus falls on Cheveldayoff — reluctant to go full scorched earth — to manage some of his most critical assets.

Yet with Hellebuyck far and away the best goaltender available via trade or free agency this summer, Cheveldayoff would be wise to work with his agent, Ray Petkau, to find a trade partner willing to give Hellebuyck ($6.17 million AAV) the type of raise he’s gunning for.

In the meantime, the player is Zen.

“There is no feeling to have because I just don’t know what’s going to happen. For me right now, I’m just preparing the same way I would always prepare. I’m a Winnipeg Jet right now. And wherever I end up playing — it could be in Winnipeg — I’ll just give my all. So, it doesn’t matter where I’m playing, I’m going after a Cup. And whatever jersey I put on, I’m going to be honoured to put that jersey on,” Hellebuyck says.

OK. But would he prefer to start training camp somewhere else?

“Honestly, I haven’t put any thought in that. That’s the business side of it,” he replies. “I have people in place for that. For me, as of now, I’m preparing like I’m a Winnipeg Jet, and I’m gonna give my all and prepare like I’m trying to get better every single day. I just recently started training and skating again. So, I remembered how fun it is, and I’m looking forward to next season.”

As the goalie world shifts increasingly toward the tandem model and the cries for load management increase, Hellebuyck is a unique animal. A true No. 1 who, rightly, wants to be compensated as such.

At age 30, he once again led the NHL in starts (64) last season and still posted a .920 save percentage.

Since entering the league in 2015-16, no goalie has played more games (445), faced more shots (13,604), or made more saves (12,465) than Hellebuyck.

That includes Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV), Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million), and John Gibson ($6.4 million) — the only three active No. 1s making more than Hellebuyck.

When the Michigan native won his Vezina in 2020, he thought it “crazy” to be attending a gala with the game’s elite.

This year’s invite to the NHL Awards is “a different honour,” Hellebuyck says. He can glance around a room with Connor McDavid, Matthew Tkachuk (the player he hates facing most), and Erik Karlsson and feel at home.

“This is what feels like consistency. This is kind of hitting one of those mini goals that I have of being consistent,” Hellebuyck says.

“At this point, [the Vezina] is not on my list of goals, to be honest. It’s more an attribute of what I’m chasing. I’m chasing a Cup right now. And if these things keep coming along the way, I will welcome it. But I have the one. And I know there’s a lot of good goalies in the league. So, if I don’t win it, someone else does. I think they earned it, and they deserve it as just as much. So, just being here as an honour. But right now, my main goal is the Stanley Cup.”

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To that end, Hellebuyck takes “a little bit” of solace in knowing that his Jets lost in the first round to the eventual champion Vegas Golden Knights.

“I knew going into it that they’re gonna be a favourite. They’re a good team. Vegas, they deserve everything they got. They earned every second. And we gave them the best we could,” Hellebuyck says.

Uh. Head coach Rick Bowness begged to differ.

“Yes. Some people would argue we didn’t [give our best] near the end. But I know from my personal experience, I gave them all that I could,” Hellebuyck says.

The question persists: Whatever those Jets gave, was that the last of it? For former captain Blake Wheeler, who’s likely played his final game for Winnipeg? For Hellebuyck? For Dubois, whose name is tugging between the Kings and the Canadiens?

“He’s a great guy. He would be in charge of all our fun activities. He’s the guy that knows what’s going on and knows how to bring a team together,” Hellebuyck says of the in-demand centre.

“I’ve always told everyone, our locker room got along so great. We all enjoy being around each other. And we’re all friends, and we get along, and we’ll remain friends forever.

“That being said, the hockey didn’t probably go the way we wanted it to go over the last couple of years. We had a great season this year, and who knows what the future holds?”

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