The Pittsburgh Penguins search for a third line center is now seven months old. The Penguins could also use a left winger who can score. Those facts are not in doubt on 5th Avenue.
However, to address those issues the Penguins cannot trade goalie Tristan Jarry. The current crop of NHL goaltenders, which seemed abundant just one year ago, is now barren. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders would greatly enhance their place in the Eastern Conference standings with better goaltending, but there is none to be found.
The Penguins have two goaltenders capable winning playoffs games, including Jarry. Maybe three including Casey DeSmith. Fans and pundits alike have offered up Jarry to fix the Penguins ills, like a cure-all pill.
But, the flaw in that plan is obvious–the Penguins needed two goaltenders to win each of their last two Stanley Cups. Starting goaltender Matt Murray has not yet been healthy enough to start all 16 wins necessary to drink from that glorious silver chalice. A concussion in 2016 and snapped hamstring in 2017 kept Murray off the ice. Five other injuries have limited Murray’s regular season time, too.
In fact, the Penguins needed three goaltenders to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. So why would the Penguins dare trade one necessary piece for another? The same problem would exist, but with a different name.
Murray was not healthy enough to play until the end of Round 2, last year. Without a Hall of Fame goaltender waiting in the wings, it seems a safe assumption the Penguins would not have won another Cup.
The great wildcard is 26-year-old rookie Casey DeSmith. The undrafted rookie from the University of New Hampshire has done nothing but stop pucks. Without great fanfare, DeSmith has quietly proved his value as a depth goaltender. He rose from the ECHL in 2015-16, to the WBS Penguins, and this season, the NHL.
Is DeSmith capable of winning playoff games? The answer is unknown.
This season, DeSmith has an impressive .926 save percentage in seven NHL games. When the Penguins no-showed against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, DeSmith was their best player.
In the AHL, DeSmith has become an All-Star. Last season he backstopped the WBS Penguins with a .926 save percentage. This season his AHL mark is .917.
But are the Penguins willing to gamble on a player without a pure pedigree and just seven NHL games? Perhaps next season the Penguins could anoint DeSmith as their backup, but this season is about chasing history, cementing an unquestioned legacy and using the word, “Dynasty.”
5v5 Save Percentage
At 5v5, the Penguins are allowing an astounding 2.8 goals against per 60 minutes. They rank 29th in the league, ahead of only the Islanders and woeful Arizona Coyotes (according to Corsica Hockey).
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Penguins goalies are last in 5v5 save percentage, at .906. That is nearly .05 worse than the Coyotes.
However, before fans blame the goaltenders, they should realize the Penguins lack defensive acumen. Phil Kessel is playing the best defense he has ever played, but he will never be aggressive or fastidious. Jake Guentzel, Dominik Simon, and Conor Sheary have all experienced defensive zone issues.
Much has been asked of the Penguins goaltenders, which makes them even more critical to another championship run. A team which relishes shot suppression, like the L.A. Kings, could escape with a lesser goalie. The Penguins certainly cannot.
Jim Rutherford doesn’t pull punches or speak in vague generalities. When asked a question, he answers. He is easily the most refreshing GM in the league. So, when Rutherford spoke to 93.7 the Fan last week, his words should carry some weight:
“I don’t want to,” said Rutherford. “It’s not my intent to look at moving any one of these three that we have on the team this year.”
Rutherford did leave the door ajar to trade Jarry, but it would take something special and how often do GM’s of rebuilding teams come heavy after players at the trade deadline? The summer is the time for those types of deals.
However, Rutherford did leave the door open to trade 2018 World Juniors MVP, Filip Gustavsson. Other General Managers are apparently salivating over the goalie prospect, who was the Penguins second-round draft choice and the top-ranked goaltender in the 2016 draft.
Gustavsson, 19, is excelling in the Swedish Elite league and figures to be blocked in the Penguins organization. This season, Gustavsson has a .913 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against-average.
Note the end of Rutherford’s quote. He praised all of the goalies, including Gustavsson, said the Penguins have the “luxury of a bunch of good young goalies,” and that isn’t intent on moving any one of the three on the team.
Gustavsson is the hot commodity but cannot help the Penguins win the 2018 or 2019 Stanley Cup. Thus it appears he is one of the trade chips Rutherford is playing.
While Jarry might be Rutherford’s biggest chip, it would also be the biggest gamble. Anyone else want to bet on Matt Murray’s health? It figures Rutherford doesn’t either.