For the longest time it looked as if the goaltending situation in Pittsburgh would be the easiest choice on the team when it came to the 2021 Seattle expansion. No drama to be had here this time around, a pleasant departure after the 2017 Vegas expansion that still has reverberated with drama and regret to this day.
For the Penguins, the choice was supposed to be clear this time around. Tristan Jarry was their starting goalie. He was one of the top goalies in the NHL for the middle stretch of the season, no questions or doubts existed about expansion.
And then the playoffs happened and Jarry was the worst goalie in the post-season this side of the Florida Panthers, being the major reason the Pens bowed out quickly in the first round.
The Penguins need to decide just how much of a second chance they’re going to give Jarry. Their decision on next month’s expansion protection list could be a key indicator of what the team is thinking. As Rob Rossi at The Athletic pointed out in his interesting expansion protection list, the rationale for protecting Casey DeSmith and leaving Tristan Jarry out there for the Kraken is intriguing. He wrote in part:
There is little to no risk of exposing Tristan Jarry unless the Penguins are completely convinced he is their best option as a No. 1 goalie next season.
There is no indication of such conviction. In fact, word around the league is that Hextall is on the hunt for a veteran goalie.
Jarry was neither drafted nor signed to his current contract by Hextall. If the plan is to bring in a veteran goalie to compete with Jarry, if not assume the starting job, it would make sense to give the Kraken an opportunity to relieve the Penguins of Jarry and his $3.5 million cap hit. With Casey DeSmith signed for one more season at a reasonable $1.25 million cap cost, it’s hard to see the downside in the Penguins potentially exposing Jarry in the expansion draft. If he’s not their surefire No. 1 for next season, why would the Penguins mind losing Jarry to the Kraken?
They probably wouldn’t. Nor should they (or anybody) expect the Kraken to take a bet on a goalie coming off an up-and-down first season as the No. 1
Rossi dismisses Seattle’s interest in Jarry, but that would seem to be a potential major assumptive leap. Check that first hyperlink again: Jarry went 19-5-2 with a .923 save% from mid-February to the end of April this season. There’s no doubt he was dreadful in the playoffs, but plenty of evidence to suggest his true talent level and ability is more on par with the .911 save% that he has in 107 career NHL games.
That’s not going to set the world on fire, but that’s also nothing for an expansion team to sneeze at. With teams able to protect one goalie, there’s not going to be a lot of talent on the expansion list. Jarry, 26, has two years left on his contract, which also isn’t THAT prohibitive for an expansion team to take on. In fact, it sounds like a pretty reasonable bet to make given the payoff would give them a goalie who started 38/56 games this season, carry the load in net for a division-winning team. That represents 68% of the Pens’ games, and he was 6th in the NHL for most starts. That’s a potential young workhorse.
Even if the Kraken opt to not take Jarry, if he is available (which still is a big, bold if at this point) that is really telling on the Penguins’ part.
If Pittsburgh doesn’t protect Jarry, it’s fair to assume they will be actively searching and seeking a change in net and probably not going to bring back the Jarry-DeSmith tandem next year. Leaving Jarry exposed would be a massive sign that Ron Hextall is looking to move on or make upgrades.
For a team where goaltending was a major weakness, you would think that is an easy area to target changes and look for an upgrade. If Jarry is taken by expansion, the Pens lose his $3.5 million cap hit and could look to the free agent market to sign a player like Linus Ullmark, Frederik Andersen or Petr Mrazek to provide a fresh new option.
Also, neither here nor there but dropping Jarry would clear up more than 50% of John Gibson’s cap space as well, should Pittsburgh try and look for a trade to make major waves in the off-season.
Or the team could go a more conventional route and protect Jarry. Would that mean bringing back the same two goalies? Is that really what they want to do?
The first clue will be in a few weeks when we see that expansion list and whether or not the previous no-brainer decision to protect Jarry actually comes to pass. If it doesn’t, this off-season for the Penguins steps up in its intensity significantly as it signals a likelihood that by opening night the goaltending depth chart in Pittsburgh for 2021-22 will be a lot different than it was to end this season.