The Casey DeSmith story is well-known by now. Undrafted, under-sized but has always risen to the occasion. This season has been a challenge for DeSmith, though his last three starts have stabilized in performance from the prior two when he was pulled early in each game.
The goaltender position is so critical for spring success that the Penguins have to be considering what move to make prior to next month’s trade deadline. While Tristan Jarry has had a tremendous bounce-back season, it won’t be lost on anyone that Jarry’s struggles in the last playoff doomed the Pens. The team owes it to themselves to have a backup that they can turn to, should the need arise due to performance or injury.
Is that backup DeSmith? It’s a question that could go either way but certainly one that general manager Ron Hextall will have to answer for himself. Surveying the goalie trade market, here are some potential targets or at least available netminders who could be in the mix.
Braden Holtby - DAL
Contract details: $2.0 million salary, contract expires after this season
2021-22 stats: 9-10-2 record, .910 save%, 2.78 GAA
The skinny: With youngster Jake Oettinger playing well in Dallas, Holtby could on the move from Dallas and made Frank Seravalli’s most recent list of trade targets.
Pros for acquiring him: Holtby has 96 career NHL playoff starts and championship experience. He’s only 32 and isn’t quite as old as some other players on this list. The contract should be palatable for the Pens to acquire through waiving or including DeSmith in the deal and/or salary retention from Dallas.
Cons for his status: 2018 is getting to be a long time ago, and for his experience Holtby is only also 5-10 in his last 15 NHL playoff games played from 2019-present. And for a player who has supposedly “re-found his form” in Dallas as Seravalli put it, since December 15th Holtby has just a .894 save% and 3.40 GAA in his last eight starts, he’s not exactly looking at the top of his game at the moment.
Verdict: It would probably take more of a leap of faith that Holtby could lean on his significant previous experience to bring him into Pittsburgh. He does have that, but not a lot else left in the tank, by the looks of things. Holtby has done a little better this season in Dallas, but overall he’s not the goalie he was from about 2012-18 by any means.
Thomas Greiss - DET
Contract details: $3.6 million salary, contract expires after this season
2021-22 stats: 8-7-1 record, .902 save%, 3.17 GAA
The skinny: Detroit will be selling off any veteran pieces of value and Greiss is a prime candidate to move if they can.
Pros for acquiring him: Greiss is a career .914% save% goalie in 334 NHL appearances, he’s gone about his business and been an above-average netminder for a long, long time. While his stats don’t exactly pop this year, remember that league average is .904% and Greiss is almost there with a team defense (peep that GAA) which isn’t very good at all. Greiss has made a career out of being a quiet, steady, capable goalie and he likely still would be if he played in front of a good team.
Cons for his status: His relatively high salary would bring some problems that could be avoided but still would need to be navigated. Greiss also turned 36 years old and has just 14 career NHL playoff starts (and only three have came in the last five years). Is that really a guy to turn to in a key situation?
Verdict: Does it make a lot of sense to get creative to acquire a $3.6m goalie who is very aged and not a guarantee to be great? Greiss is worth considering but seems a little too old, a little too expensive and a little too lacking overall to go through all the hurdles it would take to get him at this point in 2022.
Jaroslav Halak - VAN
Contract details: $1.5 million salary cap hit, $3.0 total AAV ($1.5 million bonus), contract expires after this season
2021-22 stats: 2-5-2 record, .899 save%, 2.93 GAA
The skinny: Halak’s name has been in the rumor mill, but he also is in possession of a contractual no movement clause and as of last week was reportedly not interested in waiving it.
Pros for acquiring him: Halak long has a record of performing in big moments and seems perfect as a 1B or 2A type goalie that can come in and change a playoff series on a dime.
Cons for his status: He’s got a $1.5 million performance bonus that could be pushed to next season, or could be negotiated with Vancouver to keep some but Jim Rutherford has stressed cutting costs. Halak has also barely played and is no spring chicken, he’ll turn 37 in mid-May around about the time the first round of the playoffs end.
Verdict: Name value and the level we have seen Halak play at makes him a worthy candidate, but he would likely be pricey to the cap and cost the Pens something against next year’s cap, which they don’t want to do. And he doesn’t seem to want to move, doesn’t really look like a great fit off the ice for anyone.
Joonas Korpisalo - CBJ
Contract details: $2.8 million salary, contract expires after this season
2021-22 stats: 6-8-0 record, .887 save%, 3.82 GAA
The skinny: Korpisalo is likely to be available as an impending free agent on a non-playoff team and Elvis Merzlikins locked in as the future.
Pros for acquiring him: Uhh, he’s probably available and at 27 is one of the younger names on the market? Korpisalo is only a career .903% goalie who has only really neared league-average one season. It’s difficult without mind-altering drugs to imagine the Penguins winning a playoff series with him.
Cons for his status: The pros already knocked him enough! And his contract amount isn’t ideal for a smooth transaction either for Pittsburgh, just to add even more of a reason that it isn’t a good fit.
Verdict: Easy pass. If Korpisalo wanted to sign with the Pens next off-season for league minimum, maybe. But even then, he hasn’t really provided competent backup level goaltending in the NHL yet for a long period of time.
Anton Forsberg - OTT
Contract details: $900,000 salary, contract expires after this season
2021-22 stats: 11-8-2 record, .917 save%, 2.79 GAA
The skinny: As Seravalli said from the above linked article, “IF, and it’s a big if, the Senators feel comfortable with Matt Murray in net – then Forsberg should provide the perfect trade fodder for Ottawa”. Even then, Forsberg is an impending UFA and might not be in Ottawa’s plans (or vice versa) independent of what is happening with Murray.
Pros for acquiring him: He’s got great stats and a winning record this season and that’s playing with the Senators to make his performance all the more impressive. Forsberg is 29, making him one of the few under-30 goalies likely to be available.
Cons for his status: Goalies don’t usually get traded for a lot, but trading Forsberg for Ottawa would be them giving up on a young(er) netminder who has really found a groove, he’s got some value in that for them to want to stay, or it might cost more in trade return than the Pens are interested in giving up. Forsberg also only has 80 career NHL games, none of them coming in the post-season, so he would be unproven and in some uncharted waters if called upon.
Verdict: If the Pens were super concerned about adding a strong backup goalie (which..they might not be), Forsberg checks pretty much all of the boxes of what they would be looking for. His salary fits, he is at a prime age, his performance this season is easily the best and one of the bigger samples around. He’s been used as a starter at times when Murray has been hurt/ineffective. If Pittsburgh truly wants a backup upgrade, Forsberg ought to be the prime target to inquire about.
Overall, while the goalie market does have several expiring contracts and potential candidates to look into, many of the veterans (Holtby, Halak, Greiss, Korpisalo) are very unappealing for one reason or another due to some combination of performance, salary, no movement clauses and age. The best target, Forsberg, would also be the toughest one to pry out of his current team.
The backup goalie position is also a fallback, the Pens could stick with DeSmith and hope he continues to stabilize while also having veteran third stringer Louis Domingue as a “lightning in a bottle” type of option. Neither option is very promising for future playoff success, but the fact of the matter is that the Penguins have already cast their lot and made their bet that they will rise and fall based on what Tristan Jarry can do.