Penguins Need a Goalie? Potential Trade Targets
It probably is not nor should be Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall’s top priority as the team careens toward the March 3 NHL trade deadline, both out of sorts and piling up losses. However, starting goalie Tristan Jarry suffered yet another injury this season and missed the last three starts, while backup Casey DeSmith alternately shined and leaked goals.
Jarry showed up to the rink with an undisclosed injury before the Penguins beat the Florida Panthers 7-6 in OT last Tuesday. Jarry was announced as the starting goalie after the morning skate; the following day, Sullivan said the team would shut Jarry down until after the All-Star Game.
He has played only 27 of 49 games this season.
DeSmith has slumped to a .901 save percentage and alternated from bad to great and back again. The Penguins are on the cusp of being out of the playoff seedings. The Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, and Florida Panthers are at the gates.
Do the Penguins need a backup goalie?
Need is a strong word and implies the current situation is untenable. After Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the lowly San Jose Sharks, it might feel like a goalie is an absolute necessity, but it is still a want. Fortunately for the Penguins, there are a few netminders available. Still, any Penguins trade will require salary-cap gymnastic moves that even Fairmont, WV’s Mary Lou Retton might find impossible (for you youngin’s, she’s a famous gymnast who owned the country in 1984).
Bear in mind the Penguins will likely lose at least two assets in any move; First, they must meet the seller’s price, then pay the seller or third team to take on salary.
Cap space has been weaponized on the NHL trade market.
So, the goalie has to be worth it.
First, the parameters: There are precious few 1A-type goalies. The teams that have them would be silly to give them up, such as Calgary’s Dan Vladar. Montreal seems to be letting Sam Montembeault claim the starter’s net, and Boston won’t be parting with Jeremy Swayman for anything less than a deal involving a star player.
Second, a division rival battling for the playoffs or who could face the Penguins in Round One isn’t participating in a Penguins trade. Scratch Carolina’s Antti Raanta and the Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov.
Third, Arizona’s Karel Vejlmelka is on the market and might be the ideal candidate, but with starter potential and a $2.75 million salary, he will cost a pretty penny. We don’t see the Penguins being able to make a play for him unless they give up a significant lineup contributor or a No. 1 pick (and a lesser lineup contributor to balance the salary).
Jarry is a pending UFA, so this conversation could include starting goalies at a later date.
You may see the list and feel differently than before seeing the readily accessible goalies. You didn’t think the Penguins could get Patrick Roy for a sixth-rounder, did you?
Potential Penguins Trade Targets:
1. Anton Khudobin, Dallas
The 36-year-old goalie is in the final year of a three-year contract with a $3.33 million cap hit. He hasn’t played in the NHL for almost two seasons but has reportedly found his game in the AHL.
He became a playoff goalie the moment he was the star of the 2020 bubble playoffs. In the three regular seasons leading to the bubble, Khudobin posted his best work. He had save percentages of .913 with Boston (2017-18), .923 (2018-19) and .930 (2019-20) in a Dallas platoon with Ben Bishop.
Injuries and Jake Oettinger’s emergence shoved him to the AHL.
Dallas stashed him the minors, but he still counts for $2.208 million against their salary cap.
The Penguins could similarly stash DeSmith in the AHL (if he clears waivers), saving $1.125. So, the Penguins would need to clear about two-thirds of the pro-rated version of Khudobin’s salary.
Dallas is three points up in the Central Division and comfortably in a playoff position. They don’t need to deal Khudobin, but if a team could provide a benefit, they have every reason to jump.
A second-rounder and salaried vet might get it done unless another GM comes to the table without needing to shed salary in the trade.
2. Adin Hill, Las Vegas
Vegas has three goalies. Hill has held his own in the NHL and has been ahead of third goalie Laurent Brossoit, who is in the AHL. Broissot is on an NHL contract that pays him over $2 million and would also be an option.
Hill is 10-5-1 this season with a .907 save percentage. The 26-year-old, 6-foot-6 goalie is on the verge of becoming a journeyman after following a four-year run in Arizona by spending the last two seasons with San Jose and Vegas. Hill makes $2.175 million.
The biggest problem here is Vegas is in the same ridiculously tight cap hell that bogs the Penguins. Neither team has space to add, so it would have to be an exact dollar-in, dollar-out for both sides.
This is where a third team to absorb some cap space becomes advantageous, but the going rate to take on salary is a premium.
3. Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit
The Detroit Red Wings waived the 6-foot goalie on Jan. 15 after he stopped only 88% of the shots he faced in nine games this season. Injuries, lack of playing time, and earning more time have been issues this season; in nine AHL games, his save percentage is .917.
He carries a $3 million salary and will be a UFA this summer.
Nedeljkovic, 27, was traded to Detroit in July 2021 after not getting an RFA deal with the Carolina Hurricanes (Carolina received Jonathan Bernier and a third-rounder). He was Carolina’s prized goalie prospect who took a while to get to the show but posted a .932 save percentage in 23 games during the 2020-21 NHL season.
4. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus
The revolving door of Columbus Blue Jackets goalie prospects started with Korpisalo. Now 28 years old, Korpisalo is the backup and is being squeezed out by new prospect Daniil Tarasov.
Korpisalo has a paltry $1.3 million salary and will be a UFA. With the rough Blue Jackets roster, he has a .909 save percentage this season, but that’s probably as good as he gets. In 55 games over the two previous NHL seasons, the goalie’s save percentage was well below .900.
Others Who Could/Should be Available (Reclamation Projects):
Jake Allen, Montreal. $2.875 million salary, who is 32 years old with an .893 save percentage.
James Reimer, San Jose. The 34-year-old has seen some things in his extensive travels. This season with San Jose, he has an .895% percentage and a $2.25 million salary.
Cal Petersen, LA. The 28-year-old signed a hefty three-year, $15 million contract. He posted an .868 save percentage in 10 games and was sent to the AHL. A GM might need a fifth of scotch and a double shot of desperation before taking on this contract.
Petr Mrazek, Chicago. The 30-year-old former starting goalie has an .885 save percentage in 22 games this season and a $3.8 million salary.