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The Penguins decision about Tristan Jarry isn’t truly about money

Should the Pens re-sign Jarry early?

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Tristan Jarry enters 2022-23 as the goalie with the tied for 29th biggest salary cap hit it in the league, at $3.5 million dollars. That’s great value for the Penguins, since by any account he was in the top 5-10 for best NHL goalie performances in the regular season last year.

That value won’t be last long, however. Jarry will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and is now eligible to be re-signed.

The price amount of a contract Jarry can command will be influenced greatly by his 2022-23 season performance, for natural reasons. If he puts together another great season and even puts on an impressive playoff performance then he could stand to be in-line for a huge payday. If he doesn’t have such a hot season, obviously his market won’t be as hot.

The price of goalies in general has become very interesting as of late too. Despite being such a crucial position, only three netminders have a cap hit north of $6.5 million (Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilievskiy). Only three more are in the $6.1-$6.5 million total cap hit range too (John Gibson, Matt Murray and Connor Helleybuyck).

And then comes the magic number for NHL starting goalies: the $5 million range. A whopping 12 goalies have a salary that starts with a five, encompassing everyone from young goalies given a projection/upside contract (Thatcher Demko, Cal Petersen, Elvis Merzlikins) to big free agent deals (Phillip Grubauer, Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper) and more.

The latter group of above-average goalies hitting the market at relatively young ages like Grubauer, Campbell and Kuemper have to be standing out to Jarry and his situation. The the goalies have averaged close to a $5.4 million cap hit.

Something in that range (though prone to a slight swing either way, based on 2022-23 performance being great, average or poor) makes sense as Jarry’s future salary. Or at least a good starting point for consideration.

The salary is what it is, for a prime-age NHL starting goalie that is solid (or better than solid) teams are almost certainly paying in the $5.0 - $6.25 million range per season. There are some outliers here and there but 20 NHL goalies are making $5+ million, and most are coming in fairly near that number.

The Penguins giving Jarry a contract of about $5.5 million (give or take a bit) to start and give an above average save percentage would not be an issue at all. The team can afford the raise in the future and the netminder is showing that he is worth it.

But Ron Hextall isn’t especially in a hurry to sign Jarry this summer when he can. As he told The Fan Morning show yesterday when the subject of potentially re-signing his starting goalie came up and how he was feeling about the situation on the ice.

“The fact that Jars bounced-back from pretty tough circumstances in the playoffs (in 2021), came back and played well for us (in 2021-22). We have a lot of trust in Jars....We feel very comfortable with our goaltending.”

That’s a nice vote of confidence, but doesn’t get to talking about an extension, which Hextall has mentioned recently in other recent comments that he doesn’t have a sense or urgency to re-sign Jarry or any 2023 free agent at this point.

Why not? What gives? Jarry has been steady and played well, he’s got a great pedigree and is a personality everyone knows and likes. Why drag this negotiation out when it’s pretty much been well-established above just what the market for Jarry is likely to be?

The answer to that also lies in what has become the standard in goaltending contracts for UFA-aged players in their primes. Let’s go back to our examples from above. Grubauer got a six year contract last summer. Campbell and Kuemper both secured five year deals last week in free agency, and they are 30 and 32 years-old respectively. Jarry will be 28 next year, and almost surely will be seeking as long of a deal as possible. That might realistically be a seven year ask. And if he can’t get that, six might be a compromise.

The issue with goalie commitment is the term — as Florida could probably affirm with the Bobrovsky deal, or also Anaheim who seem stuck with John Gibson, and as Seattle must be fearing about Grubauer’s subpar first season. If it works out well, like Jacob Markstrom signing for six years in Calgary, no problem. But sinking $5+ million in a starting goalie who isn’t performing is a huge drag on a team.

With that in mind, a wait and see approach for Hextall makes sense on Jarry. The Pens are still waiting, and really hoping that Jarry can play in the playoffs this next time around. If he is healthy next spring and does well, surely he will be rewarded with a long-term contract and a healthy raise on his current salary.

The bigger question might be what happens if Jarry doesn’t give a concrete answer. If he’s hurt again and doesn’t give an answer but still lingers in the ambiguity where his career has been stuck for the last year or so, do the Pens move on? Do they commit to Jarry anyways?

Hextall banked once on Jarry last summer when he opted to NOT trade him after the 2021 Islanders series debacle. But it’s not the right move to hang tight and see what Jarry can do before committing a lot of years and the team’s future to their current No. 1 goalie.

Unlike some of their other recent high-profile free agents, it’s not for the same factors of trying to bring down the salary cap hit and/or wrestle with how many years is right. In Jarry’s case it’s much more a matter for where he’s at, and what the goalie market is right now to make sure that Jarry is the right guy to get the commitment from Pittsburgh to be their goalie for the foreseeable future. Jarry should be motivated more than ever to prove that is the case.