The importance of goaltending depth had been on display throughout the Penguins’ back-to-back championship runs when the team was able to run out an elite goaltender regardless of the man playing.
They no longer have the two-elite-goalie luxury but they still have Matt Murray, a young standout who has two Stanley Cups to his resumè.
Behind Murray, though, there is much uncertainty as to who owns the backup job and both candidates don’t quite have a ton of experience, either.
Casey DeSmith, a 26-year old rookie, shined in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and eventually wrestled the backup job away from Tristan Jarry after a myriad of injuries to the Penguins’ goaltending depth. DeSmith’s 6-4-1 record coupled with his 2.40 goals against average and a .921 save percentage were very respectable for a starting goalie let alone the back up netminder.
Jarry ended up 14-6-2 as he started a vast majority of the games that Murray missed but his 2.77 goals against average and a rather pedestrian .908 save percentage led to his demotion back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
General manager Jim Rutherford was adamant that he is still a big fan of Jarry’s and that the team believes in him but typically teams only carry two goalies. Jarry had been the odd guy out but he is also younger and has a more impressive pedigree than DeSmith which is a big reason why the organization decided that DeSmith’s potential may have already been tapped and he is going to make a fine backup goaltender in the NHL. Thus, they decided to allow Jarry to stay sharp and continue to develop in the minor leagues.
So what does DeSmith’s emergence and Jarry’s current backseat mean for the younger netminder?
The Penguins like depth and they have proven that with their acquisitions of multiple centers over the past six months beginning with the Derick Brassard trade and culminating with the signings of Matt Cullen and Derek Grant. The same can be said for the goaltending spot.
As we have seen since Murray’s tenure began in the NHL, he is not the most durable goalie in the planet. He has had multiple concussions – something that can easily follow a goalie for his entire career – and a few other injuries that have forced him to miss time. This means the Penguins need that third NHL caliber goalie in case of injury. We even saw both NHL goalies go down for a short period of time last year which forced DeSmith into the starting role.
While Jarry seems like a future NHL goalie, he won’t have much of a trade market. With the shortage of goalies on every roster, almost all 31 NHL teams have a prospect or a very young goalie graduated from the AHL that they believe in. Jarry’s play in the past season and the lack of a goalie market should deter the Penguins from considering a trade involving Jarry unless they believe that player can step in and make a huge impact from the get-go.
The only thing the Penguins could use an upgrade from is left wing. Outside of Jake Guentzel, the organization lacks a scoring threat that plays the left side on both their NHL and AHL rosters. While guys like Carl Hagelin and Zach Aston-Reese play roles on that side, they don’t possess the elite scoring the Penguins can get from the center and the right. Jarry’s value won’t bring a top-six left winger back making any trade involving him a moot point.
Now could this status change by the deadline? Maybe Jarry plays well in the NHL after taking over DeSmith’s back up job and they sell high knowing that another one of their AHL goalies had a DeSmith-like season and emerged as a potential NHL candidate in case of injuries. Another team sees his play and decides that he could be the goalie for them to make a playoff run and the Penguins orchestrate a trade.
Could it happen? Yes, but the Penguins will want to know they have a third goalie that’s capable or they will retain Jarry and reap the benefits of the very good drafting of goaltenders.
Tristan Jarry will be back in a Penguins uniform next season – the Penguins still haven’t signed him to his RFA deal – whether he outplays DeSmith for the backup job or dons a baby Pens sweater. He will get NHL time because of inevitable injuries and he will look to improve upon last season’s numbers but don’t expect any trade during this offseason.