The NHL GMs are playing an overspending game and playing it against each other. After a moment of sanity, while dealing with the flat salary caps during the pandemic, GMs are again shoveling money at free agents like feeding coal into the overheating furnace of a runaway locomotive. The Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Ron Hextall earned a few lower AAVs with additional years but still slightly overspent like too many other teams across the league.
While the league deals with the fallout of too many teams at or over the cap and too few teams with enough money or interest to absorb the remainder, the Penguins have one decision looming.
Next summer, Penguins starting goalie Tristan Jarry will be an unrestricted free agent. He would be the cream of the netminder crop. Otherwise, tandem goalies like Frederick Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Semyon Varlamov and mid-30s goalies past their prime like Jonathan Quick will be UFAs. So, too will Alex Nedeljkovic, who has underwhelmed at this point of his career.
Jarry would be well sought after.
Revered colleague Dave Molinari weighed in on the Penguins possibly paying Tristan Jarry before the season starts rather than waiting until next summer.
Pay Tristan Jarry?
Counterpoint. Dave believes it may be prudent to let Jarry prove himself in a playoff series before splashing the cash. Setting aside the facts and figures of Jarry’s playoff struggles against the New York Islanders because they were ugly, count this keyboard firmly in favor of paying Jarry now.
As Mr. Molinari (that’s what we call him around the office) noted, Jarry is 2-6, with a 3.00 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in postseason play.
That’s not very good.
Here are the arguments for it. Next summer, Jarry will be THE goalie on the free agent market. It will also be one year until the salary cap spike. And, count me in the camp that believes playoff goaltending success or failure is mental. See also: Marc-Andre Fleury.
Jarry was very good in Game 4 against Montreal in the 2020 bubble. His team wasn’t, but Jarry was. Also, recall PHN’s exclusive reporting about Jarry fighting for “his net” before Game 6 and then getting it in Game 7. He had to convince the coaches he could play. He fought for his place on the big stage. A weak-willed player doesn’t do that, nor does a player unsure if he’s the best option.
I have no doubts about Jarry in the future. Certainly not the regular season in which he’s a two-time All-Star, and not in the playoffs where a little bit of luck and a bit of health would go a long way.
Six years, $36 million? OK.
While the cost might seem steep today, and it would represent a raise of about $2.5 million annually, the salary cap is going up “significantly” after the 2023-24 season, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
Further, that means the cost for goalies is not going down. Nor will it tread water.
Just imagine the Penguins building a contending team but missing a goalie in the final years of Crosby-Malkin-Letang. Ask the 2022 Edmonton Oilers how it felt to get so close, but be so far because they lacked adequate goaltending.
Now, there is the matter of Joel Blomqvist, whom PHN recently named the top Penguins prospect. It’s likely a couple of years before Blomgqvist is at full speed, but there’s no guarantee he is an NHL No. 1 goalie. There’s no guarantee he’ll be better than Jarry, either.
In 2017, the Penguins had great offers for Matt Murray before they moved Marc-Andre Fleury after the season (giving Vegas a second-round pick to take Fleury in the expansion draft). Perhaps Penguins GM Ron Hextall will treat the decision differently. But not. However, without a coming expansion draft, Hextall’s best-case scenario is to have a choice between two trade chips.
Agree or not with the Penguins’ offseason plan, they brought everyone back. Hextall didn’t re-sign players for an extended farewell tour. If there is even a glimmer of sunlight peaking beneath the closing championship window, a goalie is not important but absolutely essential.
Sure, the Penguins can wait and see. See how Jarry performs in the 2023 playoffs, which seem like a good bet the Penguins will make.
See if Jarry excels or flatlines.
That’s a bet. If Jarry does well, the prices go up. If he doesn’t do well, the price … stays the same. For example, Darcy Kuemper provided perhaps the softest goaltending performance of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie since Antti Niemi backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks more than a decade ago.
Kuemper, 32, signed a five-year, $26.25 million contract with the Washington Capitals this summer.
The price for Jarry won’t go below the $5.25 million AAV. So, why not sign it now? Today’s salary pinch is tomorrow’s bargain, and the Pittsburgh Penguins got a few bargains this summer in exchange for term.
A dollar saved is a dollar spent elsewhere.
So, a 27-year-old goalie hitting his prime who started 58 games last season with a .919 save percentage has made two All-Star games and hasn’t yet achieved his fullest potential–yep, show Jarry the money.