‘Sign a one-way contract’, they said. ‘It will be fun,’ they said.
It has been anything but fun for current Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie. Unless your idea of fun involves bouncing between the NHL and the minors, various 24-hour stints passing through Waivers, oh right, and being claimed by two teams, traded to another and then being reclaimed by Winnipeg not once, but twice.
On Thursday morning, news broke that the Jets had claimed the 25-year-old backstop from the New Jersey Devils. Under normal circumstances, that would be very welcomed news. But viewed through the lens of someone close enough to the situation, one would see the underlying image.
Drafted 59th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Winnipeg, Comrie signed his entry-level contract on December 26 of his draft year. That ELC slid for two seasons as he spent the majority of his time with the Tri-City Americans, completing his stellar Western Hockey League career.
Comrie did work his way into five games for the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps – who served as the Jets’ AHL affiliate from 2011-15. The team then relocated to Manitoba, where Comrie was gifted the starter’s role. He started 46 games for the Moose in 2015-16, before fulfilling the remaining two seasons of his entry-level deal in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
He signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets in September of 2018, which would see the young backstop earn $650K at the NHL level and $125K in the minors. Although being recalled at points in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Comrie had only played in four games with the Jets to that point. He started once in 2018-19 for Winnipeg, while playing 47 games for Manitoba in the AHL.
With his contract officially having expired following the 2018-19 season, Comrie signed a two-year deal as a restricted free agent in September of 2019. The catch, however, was that he earned his way to a one-way contract structure. But unfortunately for the minor league tender, that excitement soon turned to anguish as the realization that his spot on the Jets as a backup was not going to come easily.
Let’s face it, Comrie knew he would never dethrone recent Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck as the team’s starter. While backup Laurent Brossoit has also quietly become a threat within the crease. In his limited action, Comrie just has not shown enough for management to give him another long-lasting opportunity.
Due to his age, contract status and number of games played, Comrie was required to pass through Waivers in 2019-20, should he need to be moved up or down on the roster. With fellow Jets draftee Mikhail Berdin also waiting in the wings, the depth in Manitoba is significant.
So after rightfully negotiating and proudly signing his new two-year deal in the fall of 2019, the three months following that contract signing featured a rollercoaster of flights, new teammate introductions, re-assignments, Waiver claims, trades and press box seats.
The Edmonton-born netminder was placed on Waivers for the purpose of being sent to the AHL in late September of 2019. Former Coyotes GM John Chayka jumped at the opportunity to add the former second-round draft pick to their roster and claimed the five-year pro.
Despite owning two solid reminders in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, Arizona kept Comrie around, waiting in the wings… err, press box. Although property of the Coyotes for exactly two months, Comrie did not get a start in goal. He finally was sent down to the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, where he posted a 2.75 goals against average and .900 save percentage winning all four of his games.
With regular netminder Jimmy Howard banged up with a soft-tissue injury, the Detroit Red Wings came calling shortly after. The Coyotes sent Comrie to Hockeytown for a defensive prospect Vili Saarijarvi on the final day of November 2019, where he filled the backup role to Jonathan Bernier between the pipes.
Comrie returned to Winnipeg with the Red Wings on December 10, where he was given his first start, to go along with a first period video tribute on the jumbotron in recognition of his time within the Jets’ organization.
“It was a lot of fun seeing that,” Comrie reflected after the game. “Just how welcoming they were and how much the guys were giving me a lot of stick taps and all that stuff. It was awesome.”
Then, following just two starts (both losses) and one relief appearance, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound goaltender was placed back on Waivers by Detroit, prompting the suggestion that Winnipeg could re-acquire his services for no charge.
The Jets did just that, taking the bait while bringing the 187-game AHL veteran back to the club. With starter Connor Hellebuyck and backup Laurent Brossoit both in fine health, Comrie was finally able to find some solace and a semi-permanent home in Manitoba for the duration of the 2019-20 season with the Moose. He split time alongside Mikhail Berdin, providing some depth and stability.
However, with the two minor league netminders having each earned their right to play for the starter’s role, with Berdin actually holding the upper hand as the No. 1 for the remainder of 2019-20. And then COVID-19 rolled around.
With each team owning a 23-man active roster and a 4-6 man taxi squad, Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had to get creative in order to account for injuries, positive COVID results, isolation, and an AHL roster. In doing so, he lost Comrie as a casualty to Waivers back on January 12.
Comrie only appeared in one contest for New Jersey in 2020-21, earning the win and stopping 30 of 33 shots he faced, putting up a .909 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in the process. Owning a 3-5-0 record in eight career NHL starts, Comrie was placed back on Waivers by the Devils on Wednesday.
True to form, the Jets came calling and put in the only claim for the former Americans Team of the Decade (2010-20) starter. Owning a career 4.07 goals against average and a .873 save percentage, Comrie will be able to provide some depth, whether it’s alongside Berdin, Arturs Silovs and Cole Kehler in the minors or with Hellebuyck and Brossoit in the NHL.
Upon acquisition, Winnipeg assigned Comrie to the team’s taxi squad, where he will join Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Dominic Toninato, Nate Thompson, Sami Niku, Nelson Nogier, and Anton Forsberg as players bouncing between the two teams.
With Forsberg currently listed on the active roster since being claimed, Chevy has had his hands tied as to which players he can move up and down between the two teams and the taxi squad.
Once having fulfilled his 14-day stint in quarantine, Comrie will be able to be moved directly to Moose if need be. At that point, the Jets can Waive Forsberg and attempt to place him on the taxi squad, with Comrie manning the crease in the AHL. This would open up a roster place on the active roster, as compared to exposing that player on Waivers in an attempt to place him in the AHL or on the taxi squad.
So the point of this claim was moreso a logistical one that will allow the Jets more flexibility within the roster while bringing in a familiar face who is well-liked within the Jets and Moose organization… just not well enough to stick with the team.