The Penguins are having their break up day today instead of going to the second round of the playoffs due largely to goaltending. Tristan Jarry just completed the worst round of a playoffs for a goalie with expected goals since 2014, per Money Puck.
And while last year was Jarry’s first as the full-time starting goalie, he’s not exactly that young of a player. He’s 26 years old and has 107 career NHL regular season games under his belt with a .911 save%, just a smidge above the league’s average mark these days.
If goaltending was a question mark coming into the season, it’s been answered in an unfavorable way. Jarry can be a very good player for stretches, but he’s also proven to be unreliable and downright bad too. He started the season as one of the worst goalies in the league, and he ended the season the same way.
The Penguins’ old core is getting older, and both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have one year left on their contracts. This illustrious run these past 15 seasons is going to be over soon — at least with the main principal players involved.
Whether it’s been to add Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter or any number of players in years’ past, Pittsburgh has emptied the cabinets to send future assets out to load up for now. That must continue now more than ever to give Sidney Crosby and company the best chance of making a deep playoff run.
Jarry has a contract worth a $3.5 million cap hit for two more seasons, but the team owes it to their core to, at a minimum, aggressively shop for an upgrade in net.
Who could be involved? Let’s take a look
Here’s a look from CapFriendly at the impending free agent goalie market with more than five wins this season:
The biggest name of the group is Tuukka Rask. He’s also coming off a $7.0 million cap hit, and has only played in Boston. If he leads them on a deep playoff run does he even hit the market, or would both sides want to re-commit? That’s still probably up in the air.
Philipp Grubauer could be in the same boat as Rask, maybe his team finds a way to hold onto him, especially if he takes them to the promised land. Grubauer’s interesting because in theory he would be in a similar role in Pittsburgh that he’s been in for Colorado. The Penguins aren’t as dominant or as skilled as the Avalanche, but both teams control play and don’t ask their goalies to need to make a ton of saves, but do need important ones.
Linus Ullmark is a player that deserves attention too. He had a .917 save% in Buffalo this season in 20 games, and a .915 save% in 34 games last season. The guy deserves some sort of medal for that. He’s a prime age (turns 28 this summer), a great size (6’4, 215) and is technically proficient.
Other than that, I don’t see a ton of exciting stuff on the free agent market. Jaroslav Halak is getting a little old in the tooth, and Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne are also past-due of their usefulness. Is Antti Raanta or Frederick Andersen moving the needle a ton? Meh, I don’t think so.
Chris Dreidger and Petr Mrazek had good seasons, but would they be able to replicate that? And in a bigger role next year with the weight of a heavier workload and high expectations? I’m skeptical.
Bottom line: It’s not a great free agent pool to find a starting goalie. The best option would be Rask, but the Penguins would have to clear significant salary cap space to land a goalie of that caliber, if he even makes it to the market. In this day and age where good players were going unclaimed on waivers due to the flat cap, clearing a lot of salary cap space is going to be very much easier said than done.
Ullmark, however, I really think would be worth checking into. He has done an admirable job on an absolutely putrid team.
John Gibson is the name everyone will dream about. Hell, I know I’m guilty of it. It does not seem very realistic to bring the hometown kid back, even though on the ice it would sure be a match. Anaheim has Gibson (who still has six years left on his contract) and then not much else in net. They had Ryan Miller this season, but he’s already declared retirement. They have Anthony Stolarz and then a few longer-range prospects and nothing else. It wouldn’t make sense for them to part with Gibson, at all. He’s the whole franchise now. It’s fun to dream, but outside of a PlayStation, probably not a real life viable match.
Anton Khudobin would be an interesting name to consider. Dallas has to protect Ben Bishop via his NMC in the expansion draft (unless he agrees to waive it). Khudobin is now 35 and had a middling season this year (.905 save% in 32 games) but last year was a .930% regular season goalie and went 14-10 in the playoffs last year with 12 quality starts to only 2 bad starts. Khudobin doesn’t have the “name brand” recognition to get a lot of fanfare, but he’s been the quietly solid goalie that the Penguins could use..
Thomas Greiss is in Detroit with one more year at $3.6m on his contract (with Detroit a team willing to retain and/or take back bad contracts in exchange for a bit more). The former Penguin also performed admirably with a .912 save% in 34 games with the Red Wings last year. He’ll turn 36 next regular season. A career .914 save% goalie, Greiss is just a quietly consistent goalie. He’s older and never truly been a starter, but he’s proven.
Jonathan Quick: there’s a lot of reasons to stay away, like his age (35), his contract status ($5.8m hit for two more years) and his recent performance (.904 save% or less in the last three seasons). But he’s played for a bad team, and if we know anything about Ron Hextall it’s that he likes the familiarity of acquiring players he knows. He knows Quick. You would have to assume LA would be willing to eat some salary in this situation too, to avoid the extra years of a buyout. But does Quick have anything left in the tank?
Braden Holtby: wow, wouldn’t this be something? Holtby is also likely expansion fodder (if Seattle even wants him) and has one more year left on a $4.3 million cap hit. Holtby also has only a .904 save% in the last four seasons, he’s a long way from 2011-17 where he was one of the best goalies in the league. He is only 32 in the fall though..
Or...there’s always Jarry since he is under contract as well.
Still, this close to a disastrous end to the season, it’s more fun to imagine the team looking to make a move and upgrade the goaltender position for next season to give them the best shot. Who out there would be your dream pick? And, back to reality, who is a netminder the Pens could get? I’m thinking Ullmark is the best compromise of a quality keeper who shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Ideally it could be Rask or even Gibson, but that feels a little too far-fetched to become hopeful over.