There are two ways to look at the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie situation and the NHL flooded goalie market. The Penguins currently have three goalies on NHL contracts including Tristan Jarry who is 24-years-old and has played just 29 games over three seasons. Given the Penguins salary cap situation that is one goalie too many. However, the Penguins trade scenarios are few, or nil.
And starting goalie Matt Murray isn’t going anywhere.
In theory, the Penguins have a goalie battle for the second spot between Jarry and 27-year-old Casey DeSmith. In reality, DeSmith seems to have the job locked up. Last season, DeSmith was good as the Penguins back up. On two occasions, DeSmith played three straight games despite Murray being healthy. And DeSmith got the bulk of the work when Murray was injured for five weeks in November and December last season.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan sidestepped the question Saturday.
“We’re just going to watch the whole training camp. There is a competition at all of our positions for jobs,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make some difficult decisions coming up over the next couple of weeks. We’ll continue to watch the training camp evolve and try to make the best decision for the hockey team.”
I believe that was a yes or no question, but the absence of specifically agreeing to a goalie competition likely means a decision has been made. DeSmith posted a .916 save percentage in 36 games last season. By January, that was well ahead of Murray and impressive behind the struggling and lethargic Penguins (lack of) team defense interest.
In 50 career games, DeSmith has a .917 save percentage. In 29 career games, Jarry has a .906 save percentage.
The bad news: Goalies around the league are sliding through waivers unclaimed. There are no trading partners. This weekend, backup goalies Mike Condon, Louis Domingue, Garret Sparks, and Alex Lyon passed through waivers. Vegas acquired Sparks via trade with Toronto this offseason, too. Just a couple of years ago, the Penguins were able to deal Condon for a fifth-round pick.
There are no trade partners for goalies, so the Penguins are unlikely to find a taker for one of their backup goalies or be able to use either as a chip in a package deal to shed salary.
The good news: Goalies around the league are sliding through waivers unclaimed and the Penguins will be able to keep all three goalies in the organization and have depth should Murray get hurt, again. And next summer, Murray will be a very expensive RFA. The team could use an extra insurance policy should contract talks become protracted or testy.
Jarry is still developing, even if he desperately wants his NHL chance. However, very soon his career path will be decided. Many touted the young goalie from Surrey, BC as the Penguins goalie future, not long ago. Then Murray, then DeSmith claimed NHL jobs before him. Jarry would seem to be a cut above the list on the waiver wire, but soon his name will likely appear on the NHL transaction scroll, too.
There just isn’t much Jarry can do about it. The Penguins would have to expose DeSmith to waivers if they sent him to WBS, too.
The Penguins do have one incentive to keep Jarry over DeSmith: Money. Should the Penguins send DeSmith to the AHL, they would save $475,000. That cash must be a little bit tempting for a team pressed against the salary cap so hard their nose is bent. In fact, should the Penguins find themselves in an injury pickle, they may need that money to call up a replacement player.
The short of the Penguins cap situation is they will have to carry only 22 players, instead of 23. Should a couple of players become injured but not need LTIR, the Penguins could find themselves playing shorthanded with five defensemen or 11 forwards. The situation would be exacerbated if lower-salaried players were injured, such as Marcus Pettersson or Teddy Blueger. Even if a lower salary player were placed on IR, the Penguins wouldn’t have enough cash to make a call-up. We detailed the nightmare scenarios here.
So there is an incentive to keep Jarry on the NHL roster, but it still doesn’t seem likely. The good news is Jarry will likely remain a Penguin. The bad news is there are no trade partners for the Penguins to dump salary, even for a promising goalie like Jarry, so Jarry will remain a Penguin and the Penguins will remain cap poor.