As far as roster spots go this was setting up to be a fairly boring training camp for the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are not many — if any — actual spots up for grabs and the only thing that seemed to be at stake was where each player would fit in the lineup. We know who the players are going to be, we just do not know where they will slot in and who they will play next to. Even when we do find that out we are only a couple of bad shifts away from everything being put into a line blender anyway.
Probably the most intriguing spot to watch is the backup goalie spot behind Matt Murray, especially after general manager Jim Rutherford said at the start of camp that the team will use training camp and the preseason to decide who the No. 2 goalie will be.
It is not an earth-shattering proclamation, but it is still mildly surprising given the trust Mike Sullivan seems to have in Casey DeSmith, the fact he is just now beginning a three-year contract that he signed a year ago, and because Tristan Jarry really has not been all that impressive the past couple of years at either the AHL or NHL levels.
All of that makes it seem like DeSmith is not only the logical choice, but probably the only choice.
But sometimes team building isn’t always logical because other factors are always in play.
One of those factors: The salary cap.
With Marcus Pettersson and the rest of the restricted free agents now re-signed and the offseason complete, the Penguins still have to figure out a way to squeeze under the league’s salary cap. Opening the season with Jarry as the backup instead of DeSmith might be just enough to make that happen.
The problem with that is you are entering the season with a completely unproven backup behind a starter that has an injury history. In terms of overall performance DeSmith has objectively been the better goalie between the two at the NHL level. There really is not much way to dispute that. But again ... the cap. Without a trade somewhere else on the roster you may not have any other option but to open the season with Jarry. This is where small (or big) overpays here and there begin to add up squeeze you at the salary cap. This is why we nitpick every contract that gets signed because every dollar you spend on one player is a dollar you do not have to spend on another player.
The other issue that the Penguins are going to have to deal with here is the loser of this competition, barring a trade, is going to have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Would either one of them clear? And if you are not confident in that, what about a trade involving one of them?
Is there some sort of a roster move to be made here?
Jarry has always been mentioned as a potential trade chip but I just don’t see the value here. If there was a deal to be made involving Jarry that satisfied the Penguins they probably would have made it by now. But goalies don’t usually have a lot of trade value, and that is true for even proven, established goalies. When you are talking about a 24-year-old that still hasn’t really done anything the value is almost nonexistent. Plus, even if you traded Jarry that still leaves you with a salary cap predicament you have to solve.
DeSmith, on the other hand, might actually have some kind of trade value because he has at least shown he can be a competent backup at the NHL level. You are not going to get a lot, but it is almost certainly more than you would get for Jarry.
Given all of that I see two potential paths here:
The first is that Jarry plays well enough to give the Penguins confidence that he can be the top backup and explore a trade involving DeSmith.
The second is that Jarry does not play well enough, you expose him to waivers, and have to make another trade somewhere else on the roster to create your salary cap space.
Of those two options the latter one still seems to be the more realistic to me. The coach clearly trusts one goalie over the other, and I do not know you are going to see enough a couple of preseason games to make that change. There is just too much working in DeSmith’s favor to have Jarry realistically take that spot from him, even with the salary cap maneuvering that would have to take place.