Player: Casey DeSmith
Born: August 12, 1991 (29 years old)
Weight: 181 lbs.
Hometown: Rochester, New Hampshire
2020-21 Statistics: 20 games played (17 starts), 11 wins, 7 losses, 0 OT/SO losses, .912 save%, 2.54 GAA, 2 shutouts
Contract Status: Under contract for one more season at a cap hit of $1.25M, will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2021-22 season.
Unfortunately, DeSmith was unavailable when the Penguins needed him most in the postseason when Tristan Jarry was floundering. DeSmith attempted to practice once about 10 days after being injured in a game against the Flyers on May 3rd, the week before playoffs began. But he wasn’t able to continue and make it through the practice, let alone be available for games. DeSmith had surgery in June to repair a bilateral core muscle injury. With a 6-8 week recovery timeline, he is expected to be good to go for the start of next season.
Story of the Season
DeSmith was lightly used early in the season, starting just six of the team’s first 20 games in January and February. These were mostly scheduled starts on back-to-back or circumstances where Tristan Jarry needed a rest. But then DeSmith heated up and started getting more action — in about a six week stretch from Feb 28 - Apr 1, DeSmith went 5-2-0 with a .964 save%, both of his shutouts on the season and a 1.05 GAA.
From there, the magic faded. DeSmith was hit up for six goals against in a loss to Boston on 4/3. After that, DeSmith was back to starting about one game per week until he suffered his injury in Philadelphia on 5/3 that ended up ending his season.
There’s never a good time to get injured, but for DeSmith and the Penguins it was the worst time to not have a capable backup goalie option available, when Jarry was quite literally giving away games. Would the Pens have gone to DeSmith before that fateful Game 5 double overtime play? We’ll never know. But a strong case can be made that DeSmith would have had the opportunity to make his NHL playoff debut had he not been hurt.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Save Percentage: .924%
Goals Against Average: 2.12
Goals Saved Above Average: -0.42
Shots Against - 421
Saves - 389
Goals Against - 32
Expected Goals Against - 33.5
High Danger Shots Against - 128
High Danger Saves - 109
High Danger Goals Against - 19
High Danger Save Percentage - .852%
Average Shot Distance - 35.8 feet
Average Goal Distance - 17.1 feet
DeSmith’s stats at 5v5 were comparable and in many cases slightly better than Jarry’s, with both averaging out to being a little better than league average. In all situations, the Penguins received .908% goaltending, to rank 10th in the league. DeSmith earned perhaps the best compliment a backup goalie can receive: there was no drop-off with his play in 2020-21 from when the starter got a night off.
One unmentioned item is that DeSmith was on a team imposed banishment to Wilkes-Barre for all of 2019-20 for the odd and awkward situation that year of having Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry losing his waiver eligibility. Figuring with a three-year contract that DeSmith would be safe from teams wanting him on waivers, the Pens successfully gambled to get DeSmith through. He was back in 2020-21 with the trade of Murray bumping all the other goalies in the organization up a rung, and to DeSmith’s professional credit he was able to pick up right where he left off in the NHL from 2018-19.
DeSmith has made the most of his opportunities when he has been called upon in the crease. His sample isn’t very large, but is at 70 career NHL games. DeSmith isn’t great on the penalty kill, and perhaps is prone to giving up high danger chances and having that turn into a “bad” start, but he is also very consistent, generally in control of his rebounds and does very well at even strength and against medium and low danger chances.
The below chart mapping out expected goals based on shot location compared to actual goals allowed in pretty interesting. While Jarry struggled with slapshots (and, to an extent, backhanders), DeSmith was able to keep goals allowed under his expectation for those types of shots, as he did for wrist/snap shots. Only the dreaded deflections — a dagger for any goalie — was the culprit to allow more than the expectations.
DeSmith has a tendency to make a lot of highlight reel worthy saves. Which is weird since he doesn’t really feel like a super-athletic, quick twitch goalie, but he certainly changes into one in scramble situations like getting over the rob the Devils here in April.
"...And diving across, DESMITH!"— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 30, 2021
You're going to love April's 'Save of the Month'. pic.twitter.com/Btntf2iuV9
DeSmith also won the team award for March save of the month, denying a wrap-around attempt. He also had to come into this game cold and made 19 saves on 20 shots to help the team clinch a win (though DeSmith did not factor into the decision).
"Oh, Casey DeSmith, you are one good goalie."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 31, 2021
Here's our March 'Save of the Month' ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/LbF2ZoFcC4
Casey DeSmith did what he’s always done as a pro: show up, go about his business and turn in solid performances when given playing time. He was solid again for the Pens in 2020-21, after a lengthy absence from the NHL that wasn’t due to any fault of his own. It’s arguable the Penguins did not go to him enough — Tristan Jarry’s 38 regular season starts ranked 6th in the entire NHL, he was one of the league’s workhorses in a condensed and shortened schedule. But, even with periods of inactivity, DeSmith was able to be effective pretty much whenever he was called upon.
For DeSmith personally, the best individual situation for him would be if Pittsburgh brings back Jarry and then make no other transactions via trade or free agency to acquire a goalie. Then DeSmith is one injury or slump away from being the starting goalie (like he was for periods in 2018-19 when Matt Murray would get hurt). With a career .916 save% in 70 NHL games, DeSmith just getting an opportunity to actually play more often and showcase his talents would be his personal best case scenario. To be clear, this would not be in the team’s ideal 2021-22.
Question to ponder
But will the Penguins actually make no moves in net this off-season? Whispers are already abounding that the team will target bringing in a veteran goalie as a result of Jarry’s playoff meltdown. But do they intend to keep Jarry in that case? Or is the Pens’ future a 1A/1B where DeSmith could again be left out of the fold? It’s tough to see Pittsburgh just saying “ahh, oh well, one goalie was terrible and the other got hurt and ruined one of the precious few years left with this core, but hey, let’s run the same two back again and see what happens next year..” That...doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the action taken.
Could Jarry be the goalie moved and next season be a Frederik Andersen/Linus Ullmark/Petr Mrazek + DeSmith tandem? And while Seattle probably grabs one of the forward options that the Pens will leave out there, there’s not too many better backup goalies in the league than DeSmith. Would the Kraken go off the board to make him the expansion play? DeSmith’s steadiness and favorable contract will certainly merit at least a conversation internally for them about what their goaltending strategy might be…And that assumes that DeSmith will not be protected, which may/may not be a safe assumption at this point.
The possibilities for DeSmith are very wide open. Such is a life for a backup goalie, where job security and being able to plan for the future is often an unavailable luxury. What should the Pens do? What will they do?
How would you grade Casey DeSmith’s 2020-21 season?
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