On Friday, the Penguins announced their decision to extend goaltender Casey DeSmith’s contract for at least three more years at $1.25 million annually. While the deal was extremely friendly for the team and its financial assets going forward, it rose an obvious question.
What’s to be done with Tristan Jarry?
While keeping three capable NHL netminders in the rotation, especially with the Penguins’ history of injury at that position, is a fruitful endeavor, it will ultimately cause a future road block against the cap and depth chart. The chips are falling almost perfectly for a significant, money-moving deal at the impending trade deadline. And with Jim Rutherford’s track record of making aggressive moves in-season, there’s no reason to assume he won’t continue earning that title come February.
Jarry is 23-years-old and starting down in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins pretty regularly. He has shown that when brought up to Pittsburgh to either back up DeSmith or take over the reigns in net due to Matt Murray’s injuries or personal reasons, he not only can hold his own, but he can also win hockey games. As a rookie last season, Jarry won 14 of his 23 starts while putting up great numbers on the stat sheets. His 2.77 goals against average and .908 save percentage are nothing to bat an eye at considering his age and experience in the NHL.
However, Jarry’s clock is ticking too. At the conclusion of this season, his cheap two-way contract will expire and his one-way deal will start. With general managers around the league asking Rutherford about his plans for the young goalie, and with Jarry’s stock climbing every day, why wouldn’t he listen to what they have to offer?
Jason Mackey of the Post-Gazette recently bent the ear of Rutherford, and this is what the GM had to say regarding the precarious situation destined to unfold soon:
“By having Casey signed now, this gives us more options going forward, possibly even prior to the deadline. I like the idea that we have some depth there, preparing for the playoffs, but sometimes something comes along that you have to consider and maybe do earlier than you want.”
The other interesting piece of news we’ll have to chew on is what Rutherford’s plans are for the defensive corps once Justin Schultz makes his triumphant return to the ice after being sidelined for months due to a leg fracture. Having nine healthy defensemen is great until you have to decide where to put them all, especially when some carry decent-sized cap hits.
Obvious bubble guys are Jamie Oleksiak, who’s often been healthy scratched by Mike Sullivan and comes at a $2,137,500 price tag, and Olli Maatta, due simply to strings tied to previously reported rumblings this season and his contract size of $4,083,333. Oh, and don’t forget about humble Chad Ruhwedel sitting down on the depth chart, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Bundling one of those defensemen with a young, talented goalie prospect like Jarry could go a long way on the trade market. It would also clear a ton of cap space for the Pens’ GM to play around with come deadline time.
Again, from Rutherford:
“We’re going to have nine defensemen at some point,” Rutherford said. “I like the fact that we have nine, and I like our nine defensemen. But it would be hard to believe that we would be able to carry nine when everybody is healthy. It’s tough with eight trying to keep guys getting some ice time and getting some games. So, yeah, we’re watching that situation.”
Mackey also mentioned the Derick Brassard pickle, which is hugely interesting given that the expiration date on his $3 million contract is coming at the end of this season as well. While it was a massive, blockbuster signing at the deadline last year, Brassard, for whatever reason, still hasn’t clicked as the Penguins’ third line center. Package together a former second round draft pick in Jarry, a decent top-six or No. 5 defenseman, and a center who could easily slot in on the top-six on any other NHL team, and Rutherford has a lot of chips on the table to bring in an offensive force before the playoffs hit. We’ve already discussed at length the GM’s interests in Carolina forward Micheal Ferland to help bulk the Crosby/Malkin era’s Stanley Cup hopes once again. A move like this would free up plenty of space to get that deal done.
Naturally, trade talk will happen, and building, deconstructing, and building again different scenarios while the deadline looms is exciting for teams and fanbases alike. We’ll just have to see what rumors stir back up in Schultz’s return. That’ll likely be the catalyst that really gets the ball rolling.