Day 1 of the NHL Free Agent Frenzy is in the books, with more activity than we have seen in recent years, likely thanks to the unique situations created by compliance buyouts and the new pre-Free Agency interview window. There may still be another move or two remaining, particularly as players remain unsigned and start considering lesser offers than they had initially been seeking. We could also see a trade or two, particularly a high priced blue liner, which would allow us to fill the remaining holes amongst the forward depth, however as of now the team claims to be satisfied with being able to take this lineup into the start of the season and make changes throughout the year. So it is entirely possible that what we see now is what the Pittsburgh Penguins have to work with on opening day, so let's take a look at our roster as it stands.
NHL Roster Battles
The Penguins currently have 6 goalies under contract. They have announced that Marc-Andre Fleury is still expected to be the starter, but they brought in Thomas Greiss in order to challenge Jeff Zatkoff for the backup position. The plan is that whichever of them loses in Training Camp will be placed on waivers with the intention of being assigned to WBS. However, I find it hard to believe that either of them will manage to clear without being claimed by a team looking to improve their goaltending.
Based on age, experience, and salary it would appear that Greiss is the most likely backup. He is a year older, has been playing in the NHL for 5 seasons, has played 69 games while Zatkoff has just 20, and of course if were did manage to send Greiss to WBS his salary is high enough that it would add $75k to our NHL Cap. But is Greiss actually a better player?
Greiss had an impressive .920 Sv% last season, whereas Zatkoff only had a .912 Sv%, but in looking back at his previous 4 years Greiss was a career .912% prior to last season, and at his age a sudden surge in skill is rather unlikely, so chances are we can expect his future performance to be more in line with his career average, which means him and Zatkoff are about even in that regard. And looking back at their AHL careers, in 142 games over 4 seasons Greiss had a career .903 Sv%, whereas Zatkoff in 163 games over 5 seasons had a career .917 Sv%. So why exactly did we need Greiss when we already have a more talented and cheaper backup?
AHL Roster Battles
The remaining goaltenders that will be battling for playing time are Matthew Murray and Eric Hartzell. Assuming one of Greiss/Zatkoff does manage to get sent to the AHL, it would mean one of Murray/Hartzell would then need to be sent to Wheeling. Hartzell is older and more experienced, having made his rookie debut last season, but when Murray joined the team on an ATO in the spring he had already surpassed Hartzell and was used as the backup during the entire playoffs. Of course if one of the veterans is sent to WBS to be the starter, then perhaps it would benefit Murray to get more playing time as the starter in Wheeling rather than limited use as an AHL backup. It will be interesting waiting to see who ends up where.
The ideal situation would have been allowing Murray to get experience as the AHL starter so that he could be prepared to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster next season, which would have meant Hartzell or an AHL veteran signed as his backup. But with the current goaltending situation, if one of Greiss/Zatkoff does manage to clear waivers and get assigned to WBS they would be expected to start, which pushes our developing goaltenders down the depth chart and limits their playing time. The more we examine it, the less this signing makes sense unless the intention is to trade another goalie.
And the other goalie in the mix is Tristan Jarry. He is too young to play in the AHL, so the only way he would be able to make the lineup would be to outplay both Greiss and Zatkoff in Training Camp. It is difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't result in him returning to the WHL next season. The Penguins also still have Sean Maguire playing in the NCAA, although as of now he remains unsigned. And technically they still retain the rights to Alexander Pechurski who has been serving as a limited use backup in the KHL. We should see Maguire in the early summer activities, and Jarry will be in Training Camp, but neither of them stand much chance of remaining in Pittsburgh for long.