The Pittsburgh Penguins had a plan to deal with their salary cap space, or more specifically, their lack of salary cap space. As trades failed to materialize this summer, and teams with cap space raised prices beyond the Penguins’ pain tolerance, the Penguins anticipated trade to free salary has not occurred.
A source close to the team told PHN Monday that Jarry was part of the backup plan. The Penguins wanted Jarry to earn the backup goalie spot not only because of his potential and pedigree but because of his paltry $675,000 salary. The 24-year-old goalie “had the inside track” as the source put it. The team intimated to the goalie that if his training camp and preseason performance merited, he was the favorite to win the job.
Last season, backup goalie Casey DeSmith signed a three-year NHL contract with an average annual cap hit of $1.25 million. The Penguins will save $1.050 million by sending DeSmith to the minors. PHN detailed this scenario over the summer before defenseman Marcus Pettersson accepted his qualifying offer salary.
Jarry stopped 40 of 46 shots in the preseason with an .870 save percentage, but those statistics belie Jarry’s stellar performance. He stopped 19 of 22 shots in the Penguins’ first preseason game, which was a neutral site game at the Pegula Ice Arena against the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo brought an NHL heavy lineup against the Penguins crop of AHL players and Jarry was left out to dry.
Jarry split the game with DeSmith, who started and stopped 23 of 25 shots.
Jarry’s only preseason start was Sept. 22 against the Detroit Red Wings. He made 22 saves on 25 shots as the Penguins again lost to an NHL heavy roster which featured Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi.
DeSmith may have slightly outplayed Jarry during the preseason but there were mitigating factors. In other words, the competition between the goalies may not have been an entirely fair fight.
Until Monday, the Penguins were about $331,00 over the salary cap. Every penny helped and their cap savings by sending DeSmith through waivers and adding Jarry saved the Penguins approximately $375,000. The move mathematically put the Penguins as close to the cap ceiling as they could get, which also means if they place Bryan Rust on LTIR their salary cap savings will be maximized.
The LTIR salary cap formula is essentially the player’s salary minus cap space, and that is how much teams can exceed the cap. So, it behooves teams to get as close to the salary cap as possible before placing a player on LTIR. Saturday, Rust appeared to suffer a hand injury after blocking a shot. He could be seen shaking his hand and waving his arm. He left the ice and did not return.
The Penguins did not have an update on his condition after practice Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hope Jarry can push Matt Murray, as DeSmith did last season. Murray’s play improved significantly when DeSmith mounted a challenge for the job. Head coach Mike Sullivan would not declare Murray the starting goaltender after he returned from injury in late December, instead he forced Murray to claim the spot, which he did.
Published reports indicate the Penguins attempted to trade Jarry in offseason but did not find any takers. It may have worked out if DeSmith goes unclaimed. The Penguins will have to pay DeSmith his NHL salary regardless if he plays in the AHL or NHL, but the team got the necessary cap savings and was able to maintain organizational depth should Murray again struggle with injuries.
Murray has not yet been able to play 50 NHL games in a season. The slight logjam may also mean the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL will have a strong goalie tandem. If the Pittsburgh Penguins choose to keep AHL goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has NHL experience, in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, then prospects Emil Larmi and Alex D’Orio could be the tandem in Wheeling.