My biggest issue with the Pittsburgh Penguins roster construction has been their commitment to the same goalie duo — Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith — that has consistently failed them, for one reason or another, over the past three years.
Is it the only problem? Not by a long shot. But it is a major problem, and a major problem at the very top of the list of problems.
They have been unable to stay on the ice.
They have been inconsistent when they are on the ice.
And they have been flat out unreliable in big moments.
And they keep bringing them back.
Nothing has changed this offseason with a new front office, as Jarry was re-signed to a five-year deal and DeSmith remains on the roster as the top backup (for now).
I can actually see an argument for wanting to give Jarry another chance and for wanting to bring him back. It was a dreadfully thin crop of free agents for goalies, and it is probably true that Jarry was the best of that bad bunch. He has also shown flashes of being at least an average to even slightly above average goalie in his career when he’s been healthy.
The five-year commitment is where you lose me a little bit.
You also lose me by bringing him back and still have DeSmith as the backup. Which brings me to the next level of analysis for the goalie situation this offseason.
While the Penguins did not bring in a different starter, and while DeSmith is still on the roster, Kyle Dubas and co. have brought in an army of veteran goalies that could at least in theory compete for that spot and try to take the job.
So far they have signed Alex Nedeljkovic, Magnus Hellberg and most recently Garret Sparks (minor league deal) to join a goalie depth chart that already includes Jarry, DeSmith and prospects Joel Blomqvist and Taylor Gauthier.
That’s a lot of goalies, and it’s casting a very wide net creating a lot of competition.
But how confident are you in .... any of them?
Nedeljkovic and Hellberg have some NHL experience, but outside of one outlier season from Nedeljkovic none of it is really any good NHL experience. Certainly not the type of track record that should give you any sort of confidence that they could be a solid NHL backup or a strong safety net option in the event Jarry is injured or does not play well.
And that leaves the team back in the same situation it was in before the offseason started.
On one hand, I kind of like the idea of casting a wide net and bringing in a lot of potential options.
Projecting goaltending performance is nearly impossible to do from one season to the next, and there are always some examples of random goalies coming out of nowhere, getting hot for a stretch of games, and playing way above what anybody realistically expected from them. Sometimes it seems like the best path is to just give yourself a ton of options and see who emerges.
We literally just saw that play out with Adin Hill and the Vegas Golden Knights this postseason.
When the Golden Knights acquired him they did so with the idea that he would be second or third on their depth chart after posting a .906 save percentage the previous year. He was far from a sure thing. He didn’t even start the playoffs as their starting goalie.
This is kind of the path that Dubas seemed to take with goalies in Toronto. He never went for the big-name goalie or the proven starter, and seemed to roll the dice on a bunch of buy-low candidates to see who could emerge.
Jack Campbell. Matt Murray. Ilya Samsonov. Petr Mrazek. David Rittich. Michael Huthinson. He just kept rolling the dice with very mixed results.
But for every Adin Hill success story, there’s also 10 random goalies that don’t give you that and continue playing unproductive hockey.
Competition can tend to bring out the best in everybody, and the Penguins have certainly given themselves a lot of competition and a lot NHL-caliber options in net behind Jarry. It just remains to be seen how it will unfold or if one of those lottery tickets is going to result in a big winner.