The Pittsburgh Penguins trade whispers and free agent talk has begun. The biggest Penguins’ surprise of the 2020-21 NHL playoffs was not Jeff Carter or their puck domination of the New York Islanders. Though those were surprising, but the bigger shocker was goalie Tristan Jarry and his soft play. And so, the Penguins might be in the market for a playoff-experienced backup goalie.
Jarry didn’t perform well in his first go-round as “the man,” and the results were another early exit. But you don’t give the heave-ho to a goalie who made the 2020 All-Star game and has shown an ability to steal points after one flop.
Penguins GM Ron Hextall voiced his support for Jarry in his season-wrap press conference last week.
“(We) saw what happened in Game 5, an unfortunate error there. And then Game Six wasn’t the best, but I think we wouldn’t have been where we were without Tristan,” said Hextall. “And we all have to remember, Tristan is a young player. He’s going to learn from this, and he’s going to come back better in September. So we all learn lessons in life. And if you’re going to be a goaltender in this league for a long time, you’re going to have your ups and downs as pretty much every guy does…”
When Hextall was a goalie, he, too, had the playoff downs early in his career but rebounded with big performances. He can relate, but as the Pittsburgh Penguins GM, he also has a job, and to use head coach Mike Sullivan’s phrase, “hope is not a strategy.”
The Penguins can’t “hope” Jarry becomes a playoff goalie and leave themselves vulnerable should they make their 16th consecutive playoff appearance next season.
That is why team sources told PHN the Penguins are indeed looking at experienced playoff goalies who could ride sidecar to Jarry in 2021-22.
There are some big names and former big names about to hit the free-agent market, including Devan Dubnyk, Jonathan Bernier, and the suddenly fashionable Chris Driedger. Still, there is a wrinkle to a lot of those players.
They’re probably not better than current No. 2 Casey DeSmith, the Penguins’ dependable and capable backup goalie. In 70 career games, DeSmith has a .916 save percentage, though he has not yet seen playoff rubber.
And, DeSmith is relatively inexpensive at $1.25 million. Some of the goalies on the market may get bigger money as a 1a, like Bernier and others on the free-agent market, are no longer viable.
Jaroslav Halak will forever strike fear into the Penguins’ fanbase for his brick wall play in the Montreal Canadiens’ 2010 Round Two win over the Penguins.
He’s available, but at 36-years-old he’s also at the end. Halak was not good for the Boston Bruins this season and has not been good in recent playoff starts. Our sharp eyes colleagues in Boston replied, “no, and no,” regarding Halak’s viability for the Penguins role.
And a couple of netminders would probably come cheaply in any Penguins trade efforts, but also with a hefty salary in tow.
One thing to note, we saw more than a few goalies shaking their tin cup on the open market looking for a job last offseason. It was a logjam that forced the ‘tenders to take much less than previous market value. So a team like the Penguins might play the break again.
Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Talk: “Experienced” Goalies to Watch
Frederick Andersen, UFA, 31
Since the team source specifically mentioned Andersen, whose time in Toronto has seemingly come to an end, we’ll lead with him.
The goalie hasn’t won a first-round playoff series with Toronto but has posted strong numbers in the postseason…until this year. He took more than his share of the blame for some deciding-game disappointments and Toronto’s running failure to escape the Round One vortex.
On his resume is a run to the Western Conference Final with the Anaheim Ducks and a career .916 playoff save percentage. However, he will turn 32-years-old early next season, and chances are he’ll take a low-scale starter’s contract with a lesser team rather than a 1a or backup role with the Penguins.
The market could squash Andersen like it did the others last fall, so the Penguins can definitely kick the tires.
Jonathan Quick, LA Kings, 35. Contract Remaining: Two years, $5.8 million AAV
We put Quick on the list because his name has already and assuredly will be brought up in connection with this endeavor. The LA Kings are already paying half of Jeff Carter’s salary next season. What’s another couple of million between friends?
Too much, probably.
The Penguins certainly could not afford Quick at full boat, and the Penguins really don’t have a bad contract they must unload.
The two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie was a monster in the playoffs as the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks waged a stunning five-year duel in which only those two teams won the Stanley Cup from 2010-2015 and met in the Western Conference Final one time.
Even in the Kings’ last playoff run in 2017-18, in which the Vegas Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury swept them away in four straight, Quick had a .947 save percentage.
I’m no historian, but a goalie getting swept with that save percentage must be close to a record. In 85 career playoff games, Quick has a 2.23 GAA, and a .922 save percentage.
Quick is probably too big for the Penguins needs.
Braden Holtby, Vancouver Canucks, 31. Remaining Salary: One year, $4.3 million
In the last two seasons, Holtby has been a sieve. First, with Washington, he raced Penguins goalies Matt Murray to the bottom of the save percentage race as both bubbled around .900. Then, behind Vancouver’s young defense last season, he was torched for a 3.67 GAA, and an .889 save percentage.
However, we also know Holtby has a shiny Stanley Cup ring courtesy of beating the Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights in 2018. That Holtby would be a great Penguins trade target, but it’s been a couple of years since he was on his game.
He’s only 31-years-old, and there isn’t a good reason he can’t reclaim some top form. But wow, the last two seasons have been bad. Buyer beware.
Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars, 35: Remaining Salary: Two years, $3.3 million
Khudobin was the Cinderella of the 2020 NHL playoff bubble. He backstopped the Dallas Stars achingly close to the org’s second Stanley Cup and one without a foot in the crease (I’m kidding, I’m sorry).
He was a 1A to Bishop last season and started a majority of the Dallas games this season (32). However, Jake Oettinger is about ready, Bishop is well paid, and Khudobin is the odd-man-out.
Statistically, he had one of his worst seasons with a .905 save percentage, but in 2019-20 he had a .930 stopper score. It wasn’t ideal for a 35-year-old goalie to slump to a rough season in a walk year, but Dallas didn’t offer as much help this season.
Could Khudobin be a perfect one-year insurance policy? The 5-foot-11 goalie won’t take away a lot of daylight and hasn’t ever been a bonafide No. 1 goalie.
We’ll call this one possible and one to watch.
Editor’s note: We incorrectly listed Khudobin as a UFA in the original post.
Penguins Trade, UFA No-Go:
Antti Raanta, UFA
He will get 1A money somewhere but has been bad in five career playoff games. At 6-foot, he had a 3.06 GAA and a .905 save percentage. He’s been up and down in his career. It would seem there are better fits if (IF) the Penguins go for a goalie.
Louis Domingue, UFA
Is he better than Casey DeSmith? We don’t think so.
Jaroslav Halak, UFA
Halak, 36, is possibly at the end of his career after declining performance and Jeremy Swayman’s emergence in Boston. Also, his temper issues got the better of him in a couple of practices late in the season and one OT loss as he destroyed sticks and slammed gates. A team like Penguins doesn’t need to take that gamble.
Chris Driedger, UFA
The 27-year-old journeyman backup goalie had a strong year in Florida with a career-high 23 starts. Some are ready to thrust him into a prominent role. Again, probably not better than DeSmith.