Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry is generally regarded as a future NHL starting goaltender. Last season, he started 23 games and posted a winning 14-6-2 record. So why is Jarry, a restricted free agent, still unsigned?
One answer is the Penguins don’t have enough salary cap space to offer commensurate NHL backup goalie money. The other answer is a bit more cloudy.
Since 2006, eight RFAs have received offer sheets. Seven offers were matched, including Ryan O’Reilly and Shea Weber. Just one restricted free agent has signed an offer sheet which was accepted: Dustin Penner in 2008. The Edmonton Oilers and then GM Kevin Lowe plucked the young power forward from Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks.
The resulting feud between the rival GMs was a public spectacle which culminated in Lowe using a radio show appearance to challenge Burke to a fight. In the back-and-forth over the “morality” of signing another team’s RFA to an offer sheet, Burke flatly stated it shouldn’t be done. Call it a gentleman’s agreement or a taboo, but RFAs are off limits.
No RFA offer sheet has been tendered since OReilly’s sheet in 2013. Eight offers were made in the first seven years of the salary cap era (2006-2013), but none in the five offseasons.
Something Doesn’t Add Up
Something doesn’t add up and it’s costing players a lot of money.
Prior to 2017-18, Jarry, 23, played in just one NHL game. Last season, he learned quickly on the job. He posted a slightly higher save percentage (.908) than starter Matt Murray (.907) and a lower goals against average (2.77) than Murray (2.92). Jarry also posted a well above average quality save percentage (.609). The league average is .530. Last season, Murray posted a .422 QS and a .553 in 2016-17.
Jarry’s future is fast approaching. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound netminder is athletic yet positionally sound. When he is on his game, he plays like a large goaltender and takes away the net from shooters.
Backup goalies such as Louis Domingue, Keith Kinkaid, Robin Lehner and even Petr Mrazek will make between $1.1 and $1.5 million this season. Other backups such as Darcy Kuemper, Aaron Dell, and Michael Condon, will make between $1.8 and $2.4 million.
The Penguins currently have the least amount of cap space in the NHL, only $724,000 according to CapFriendly.com. If forward Jimmy Hayes, who has NHL experience but is on a two-way deal, doesn’t make the club, the Penguins will have about $1.3 million of cap space.
As the system is set up, another team should swoop in and snag Jarry. A contract worth less than $1.33 million AAV would force the signing team to give the Penguins zero compensation. A deal worth over $1.33 million (and under $2.029 million) would yield only a third-round choice. Could the Penguins match a deal for $1.6 million? They would need to relegate both Jimmy Hayes and Casey DeSmith to the minors, and even then the Penguins would have almost no salary cap space left.
Acquiring a 23-year-old goaltender with starter upside for nothing, or just a third-round choice, seems an easy proposition when starting goalies are again scarce. Just ask the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and the list goes on. Any team, for just a paltry backup goaltender salary, could pick the nearly-ripe fruit from the Penguins tree, and the Penguins would be nearly powerless to stop it.
In late June, TSN analyst Daren Dreger reported the Penguins were “open” to trading Jarry. If the CBA rules adhered, any team could quickly use the NHL “name your own price’ feature, but alas, the unwritten, mostly unspoken rules defy the written CBA agreement. One wonders if the Marvin Miller incarnate, NHLPA President Donald Fehr is taking notes.
After five years, something isn’t right. Jarry should be a no-brainer for many general managers across the NHL. In this case, that is to the Penguins benefit.