All Hell Breaking Loose: Penguins’ 3rd Line, Jarry and Options
Not since the consternation and fear of missing the playoffs in late season 2015, when the Pittsburgh Penguins were down to five defensemen because former GM Jim Rutherford bet his salary cap structure against a doomsday scenario and lost, have the Penguins’ playoffs hopes been in such dire straits. It seems at every level, problems and uncertainty are roiling.
Penguins’ third line.
Mike Sullivan’s lineup choices.
Inability to beat good teams, especially in the Metro Division.
An NHL trade deadline but zero Penguins activity.
Have I got it all? The Penguins are in trouble. As Rome burns, GM Ron Hextall has not yet acted. The noise of inaction is beginning to rival the sounds of bustling energy by those teams which have acted. Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Accairi to Toronto fortified their playoff standing.
Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders made them much better this season and for years to come.
The heat on Kasperi Kapanen seems like an afterthought now. The winger has shown a few signs of life, even as Carter has continued to slide.
Let’s set the ground rules on a few things. The Jeff Carter situation has been unraveling for months, though Saturday’s cave-in was the flashpoint. After getting dominated by all levels of the New Jersey Devils and the third line twice being culprits this weekend for goals scored immediately after a Penguins goal, there’s nowhere for Carter to hide.
The Penguins lost a pair of games in which they were invested and capable of winning. Their playoff hopes are twisting in the wind. And it would be an utterly remarkable organizational failure to sign Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin to long deals, then miss the playoffs.
The Penguins eventually have nowhere to go but down, but it wasn’t supposed to happen now.
First, respect to Carter for facing the media Saturday night. He doesn’t often speak with us, but he looked us in the face on his toughest night and answered the questions. He didn’t give cliches about a team game or get ’em tomorrow.
Second, scouts are talking. One NHL scout told a member of the National Hockey Now family, “someone close needs to suggest retirement.”
The situation is that bad.
It happens to all. For the human’s sake, I hope this is mental. He seemed close to retirement in LA but was rejuvenated with the Penguins. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something left in the tank, and a bit of desperation or rest can give the big man one last gasp.
Perhaps a couple of weeks out of the lineup would help.
But the problem is crushing the Penguins lineup.
OPTIONS: Carter is on a 35+ contract. That means the team gets zero cap relief even if Carter retires today or the Penguins waive him. There is no way to get around a 35+ contract unless he is traded.
Nor can Carter be sent to the minors without his approval. Even so, that would only open a roster spot, not cap relief. So, that $3.125 million AAV will be on the books through the end of next season.
Side note: it’s incredible Hextall did that for a two-year deal. He could have avoided the 35+ pitfall if the second-year salary was equal to the first without a signing bonus. Players want buyout-immune security, but GMs don’t have to acquiesce.
A non-35+ deal would give the Penguins (and perhaps Carter) options, but what’s done is done.
The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a long list of options. When Toronto acquired Noel Acciari with Ryan O’Reilly, it removed a cheap fallback option that should have been on the Penguins’ board. The Blues’ other third liner, Ivan Barbashev, is terrible on the faceoff dot, never winning more than 45% of his draws in a season.
Hextall’s options are limited, and the market price is set. Will he pay it for a 3C?
Internally, Teddy Bleuger seems to have some spark or jump lately, as the Penguins’ fourth line is picking up the pace. It’s worth a shot as a third line — O’Connor-Blueger-Kapanen/McGinn/Archibald.
Ryan Poehling’s nagging injury is another impediment. He could adequately pivot the fourth line or take the left wing on the third but not until he’s healthy.
The minor league option is Jonathan Gruden on the fourth line, but after his initial adrenaline burst, he didn’t seem to make much impact on the NHL game and isn’t a highly ranked prospect.
Remember back in November when Jarry blurted out that an injury hampered his performance, but coach Mike Sullivan quickly shot it down? The goalie has missed 16 of the last 18 games after failing to finish the first period of the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.
Saturday, Sullivan said Jarry has been seeing a team of doctors, including outside consultants, as they all “do their due diligence.”
A team of doctors and consultants isn’t usually involved in minor or straightforward injuries.
There’s not much else to report, though I think we all inferred that Jarry is dealing with something beyond an ordinary boo-boo treatable by trainers or a team doctor.
Perhaps not even the Pittsburgh Penguins know whether Jarry can play with it, through it, or this will be an ongoing situation with starts and stops.
Options: Jarry’s situation has put more pressure on backup Casey DeSmith, who has alternated between great and not very good.
It seems the Penguins need, and Hextall must acquire, more goaltending lest they want the possibility of relying on Casey DeSmith as a starter and Dustin Tokarski as the 1A or B.
The coming March 3 NHL trade deadline both adds an opportunity to address needs and pressure to the situation. The only wild-card rival to upgrade, thus far, has been the New York Islanders. That’s the positive. The negative is the Penguins seem to be coming apart at the seams. Defenseman Kris Letang said the team is “losing its mojo.”
The goaltending has been uneven.
The third line has been unable to keep pace, and the team has suffered. Recent losses had seeds in third-line shortcomings.
You can feel it. I can see it on the ice and in the room.
All hell is breaking loose.