The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of personnel issues to address over the next few months.
Securing a No. 2 goaltender is one of them, even if it’s not among the most pressing matters facing GM Ron Hextall and his staff.
Not when the Penguins are hoping to retain the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Rickard Rakell, among others.
Casey DeSmith, the incumbent as Tristan Jarry’s backup, presumably is a candidate to remain in that role, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Although DeSmith, who had been working on a three-year contract that carried a salary-cap hit of $1.25 million, struggled through the early part of 2021-22, he rebounded during the second half of the season.
He finished with an 11-6-5 record, 2.79 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
With Jarry sidelined by a foot injury. DeSmith became the Penguins’ go-to goalie for the final weeks of the regular season, and figured to fill that role during their opening-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.
But after stopping 48 of 51 shots during Game 1, DeSmith abruptly skated to the bench during the second overtime, then left the ice because of a core-muscle injury that had to be surgically repaired a few days later.
The Penguins did not announce a timeframe for his recovery, but even if he’s projected to be ready for the start of training camp, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back on the payroll by fall.
Indeed, the lone certainty at this point is that the Penguins aren’t likely to invest much cap space in a backup, if only because they have so many other free agents who must be re-signed or replaced.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins are convinced that DeSmith’s health isn’t a long-term issue and that his contract requirements are reasonable, he would seem to be a serious contender for the No. 2 job because he has proven that he’s capable of performing at a high level and has accepted filling a subordinate role without complaint.
But if management decides to move on from him, here are some unrestricted-free-agents-to-be who might get a look to replace DeSmith (with their 2021-22 team and cap hit in parentheses). Suffice to say, most cut-rate goalies likely won’t be winning a Vezina Trophy anytime soon:
*** Louis Domingue (Penguins, $750,000) — He stepped in for DeSmith late in Game 1, and would have become a local legend if he’d gotten the Penguins past the Rangers. However, he faltered as the series progressed, and gave up a particularly egregious deciding goal in Game 6, reducing him from folk hero to footnote. He’s a good guy to have as the No. 3 in your organization, but making him a full-time backup might be a bit much.
*** Keith Kinkaid (Rangers, $825,000) — He only made it into one game with New York this season, rejecting 29 of 31 shots in a 3-2 victory at Arizona Dec. 15. Kinkaid, who will be 33 July 4, did, however, have several solid seasons with weak teams in New Jersey before joining the Rangers.
*** Maxime Lagace (Tampa Bay, $750,000) — Remember him? He spent most of 2020-21 with the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, but did get one game in the NHL. Lagace split two appearances with the Lightning this season, although his personal stats (6.11, .828) weren’t exactly glittering.
*** David Rittich (Nashville, $1.25 million) — Rittich didn’t do much to up his value during his lone appearance of the playoffs, giving up five goals on 13 shots. And while his regular-season record (6-3-4) was OK, his save percentage (.886) was lower than 88 other goalies who played in the NHL in 2021-22.
*** Malcolm Subban (Buffalo, $950,000) — He’s never lived up to the promise that prompted Boston to claim him in the first round of the 2012 draft at PPG Paints Arena and missed the final 47 games of the regular season because of an unspecified upper-body injury, but he’s big (6-2, 215 pounds) and athletic and at least has the potential to elevate his game in coming seasons.
*** Scott Wedgewood (Dallas, $825,000) — He was 13-15-1 while splitting the season between the Stars and Arizona, and has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career. He can steal some games, and all but give others away, which is part of the reason he’s regarded as a journeyman.