With many expecting that the Penguins would seek a change in net during the flurry of activity around the start of free agency, the goalie carousel swung around and around, and Pittsburgh found itself on the outside when it stopped. Still in the same position as they were coming in. One thing is clear now, if help is coming, it’s not coming from the open market (which is needless to say based on the salary cap, but still).
There are only 9 UFA goalies left who played at least 1 game in the NHL last season:— CapFriendly Depth Charts (@CF_DepthCharts) July 30, 2021
Tuukka Rask (injured)
Marcus Hogberg (signed overseas)
General manager Ron Hextall — be it a true thought, or be it posturing — has always maintained in recent public comments that he was fine with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith being the goalies in Pittsburgh for 2021-22. I’m not sure anyone really believed him, and reports were out there that the Pens were looking into potential changes, but for one reason or another, nothing came to pass.
One reason was certainly the high price of goalies in free agency. Here are some of the more notable signings this week:
- Phillip Grubauer (SEA): $5.9 million annual salary for six years
- Linus Ullmark (BOS): $5.0 million for four years
- Frederik Andersen (CAR): $4.5 million for two years
- Jonathan Bernier (NJD): $4.125 million for two years
- Petr Mrazek (TOR): $3.8 million for three years
- James Reimer (SJ): $2.25 million for two years
- Antti Raanta (CAR): $2.0 million for two years
- Martin Jones (PHI), Braden Holtby (DAL): $2.0 million for one year
- Jaroslav Halak (VAN): $1.5 million cap hit for one year, $1.5 million potential bonus for what could be a $3.0m cap obligation
Even fairly uninspiring options for a full scale number one goalie like Bernier or Mrazek were coming in around $4 million dollars, who probably would provide barely a difference from the .911 save% resume that Jarry has had in his career.
Ullmark, with an NHL career season-high of 37 games, and Grubauer, with one season (last year) of 40+ NHL games in a season, cashed in big time with fairly limited resumes.
The other notable move this week was Darcy Kuemper being traded from Arizona to Colorado to replace Grubauer. The Avalanche paid a premium giving up a 2022 first round pick (in what is expected to be a very strong draft), as well as a pretty good prospect in defenseman Connor Timmons to get Kuemper (with $1.0 million retained to leave Colorado with a $3.5m cap hit for one season).
Could you imagine Pittsburgh giving up something like Pierre-Olivier Joseph and their first rounder next year for Kuemper? That’s perhaps reasonable, but a hefty price to pay for a goalie with only one season left on his contract.
Of course, there remains a very looming potential option for the Pens. If not in reality, at least that makes sense.
Can the Pens find a way to nab Marc-Andre Fleury from Chicago? It’s a storyline worth watching unfold, but with a lot of speculation.
Through his agent, Fleury has been publicly non-committal about his future and certainly stated his initial unhappiness about playing in Chicago.
It’s also impossible to ignore that Fleury’s salary cap hit of $7.0 million is exactly 50% more than Jarry’s $3.5 million. 50% is the maximum a team can retain.
If Fleury (and that’s a big “if” right now) makes it known to Chicago he won’t play for them and would only be willing to go to Pittsburgh, would the Blackhawks be interested in a deal around a Fleury for Jarry swap?
Hextall has been known as a manager who doesn’t operate off of emotions, and he has no connection for Fleury anyways. Still, with last season’s Vezina winner potentially in a situation where he doesn’t want to play in Chicago and might want to go back to Pittsburgh, it’s an opportunity that also can’t be ignored.
Yet, Hextall might be booking on seeing how Jarry bounces back and learns from a dreadful playoff. Fleury’s had a few of those along the way too. Generally speaking, and especially with considering a mind for the future, a 26-year old goalie vs. a 37 (in November) year old goalie might also lend credence into staying put.
It’s also unknown that Chicago would have interest in Jarry, or would be willing at this point to cut their losses and retain salary on Fleury. They could play out this stalemate, betting on hoping that Fleury will not step away from the game right now. The Blackhawks could also be looking for more assets in a possible Fleury-for-Jarry trade that might be unappetizing to Hextall.
There’s a lot of moving parts in play. Will Fleury take a hard line against playing in Chicago when the rubber meets the road and the impact from his trade settles? Will Chicago be willing to move Fleury to upgrade their goaltending if that happens? Is Hextall even all that interested if all those circumstances add up?
That is a lot of questions in the mix. But if the Pens really do want to change their goaltending situation ahead of the season, Marc-Andre Fleury is probably the only unsettled netminder left in the mix that represents an upgrade and real choice for them to explore.
The opening days of free agency gave the Pens no answers in net. Even if they had cap space, a lot of the middling goalies were signed for a pretty hefty amount, with no clear options that looked like investing in, quite frankly.
Which means a perhaps unappealing end result for Pittsburgh. They were unable to make any changes for the spot that was most responsible for kicking them out of the playoffs. Should Jarry grow and improve, that may be a blessing in disguise.
If the Fleury situation doesn’t break their way, the Pens might have to go towards the trade deadline potentially looking for a skill upgrade in net.