The Winnipeg Jets filled their vacancy between the pipes on Wednesday, signing free agent Al Montoya to a one-year deal.
Montoya, 27, was chosen by the New York Rangers with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft — a class that also featured the likes of Alexander Ovechkin (1), Evgeni Malkin (2), Winnipegger Cam Barker (3), current Jets captain Andrew Ladd (4), Jets’ right-winger Blake Wheeler (5), Drew Stafford (13), Devan Dubnyk (14), Winnipegger Travis Zajac (20) and former Manitoba Moose netminder Cory Schneider (26).
To say that Montoya hasn’t lived up to his full potential to date is accurate, but like defenceman, it sometimes takes a little longer for goalies to develop.
And rather than run from his past, Montoya embraced it during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, noting how he thought the road was going to be easier when he broke into the pro ranks surrounded by all the hoopla.
Montoya said he’s learned from it and grown from the experience of dealing with the trials and tribulations.
“It’s just about sticking with it, for me that’s what it’s been,” said Montoya, who went out of his way to say he understood he was joining the Jets to be Ondrej Pavelec’s backup. “It was always hard work and knowing it was going to pay off.”
What was appealing about joining the Jets?
“I’m excited to be part of such a hockey community,” he said. “I got a chance to speak with goalie coach Wade Flaherty (on Tuesday) and I’m just really excited about the opportunity and the way this team is being built and have a chance to play in one of the coolest buildings. Last season was great. I got a chance to go into camp and compete for the (starting) job. I felt great about the way I came into camp and played at the start of the year. I went down unfortunately with an injury. But last year was a learning year for me, like every year. I’m a guy who looks forward to winning, wants to win and help contribute to the team as much as possible.
“I look forward to doing the same in Winnipeg. To me, it was a no-brainer (to sign with Jets).”
The Chicago product was 9-11-5 with a .893 save % and 3.10 GAA in 31 games with the New York Islanders last season.
That injury Montoya mentioned earlier occurred against the Jets on Dec. 20 when Jets winger Evander Kane drove the net and crashed him into the crossbar, causing him to miss nearly a month of action with a concussion.
During his final 14 games, Montoya had a few rough outings, giving up four goals three times, five goals twice, six goals once and then surrendering seven in his final start of the campaign against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In 2010-11, Montoya posted more impressive numbers, going 9-5-5 with a .921 save %, a 2.39 GAA and one shutout in 21 games.
Montoya also appeared in five games with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008-09, going 3-1 with a 2.08 GAA, .925 save % and one shutout when Ilya Bryzgalov was the starter there and he spent the bulk of the campaign with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.
You’d have to think the Jets are counting on a return to the 2010-11 form and if he can give the Jets somewhere between 20 and 25 games, that should help keep Pavelec fresh for the stretch drive — something that didn’t happen last season.
Flaherty might be the perfect guy to work with Montoya as he did great things with Corey Crawford while he was working for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Both Crawford and Montoya are big goalies who are athletic.
“It’s funny, I was telling Wade how much I admired him. I played against him in the minors,” said Montoya, who starred with the Michigan Wolverines of the NCAA and also spent a season in the United States national team development program. “Seeing his work ethic every single day and seeing the way he competed in games, it’s something that as a goalie, you admire. It rubs off on you and the players around you.”
We figured Dan Ellis and Montoya were probably the best two candidates left in free agency and Montoya is five years younger, saw more NHL action the past two seasons and came at the bargain-bin rate of $601,000.
Sun columnist Paul Friesen asked Montoya what was the deal about the extra $1,000 this afternoon?
“I don’t know, I let me agent take care of that part,” said Montoya. “I just take care of (what happens) on the ice.”
With the addition of Montoya, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff crossed another important item of his to-do list.
There may be another few signings to announce, but we’re leaving those to my fellow Sun workers over the next few days.
Will check back in next Tuesday.
Enjoy the weekend.
And let us know what you think of what the Jets are doing in free agency so far.