NHL general managers are playing a game of overspending and playing it against each other. After a moment of common sense, while dealing with fixed salary caps during the pandemic, GMs are once again shoveling cash out of free agents like coal feed from the overheating furnace of a runaway locomotive. The Pittsburgh Penguins and general manager Ron Hextall got a few lower AAVs with overtime, but still slightly overshot like too many other teams in the league.
As the league faces the fallout of too many teams at or above the cap and too few teams with enough money or interest to absorb the rest, the Penguins have a decision looming.
Next summer, Penguins starting goaltender Tristan Jarry will be an unrestricted free agent. He would be the crème de la crème of goalkeepers. Otherwise, tandem goalkeepers like Frederick Andersen, Antti Raanta and Semyon Varlamov and goalkeepers in their thirties have passed their prime like Quick Jonathan will be UFAs. The same will be true for Alex Nedeljkovic, who has been disappointed at this stage of his career.
Jarry would be well sought after.
Revered colleague Dave Molinari felt the Penguins might be able to pay Tristan Jarry before the start of the season rather than wait until next summer.
Pay Tristan Jarry?
Counterpoint. Dave thinks it might be safe to let Jarry prove himself in a playoff series before dropping the money. Leaving aside the facts and figures of Jarry’s playoff struggles against the New York Islanders because they were ugly, firmly count that keyboard in favor of paying Jarry now.
As Mr. Molinari (that’s what we call him in the office) noted, Jarry is 2-6, with a 3.00 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in playoffs.
It’s not very good.
Here are the arguments in its favour. Next summer, Jarry will be THE goalie on the free agent market. It will also be a year before the salary cap peaks. And, count me on the side that believes the success or failure of playoff goaltenders is mental. See also: Marc-André Fleury.
Jarry was very good in Game 4 against Montreal in the 2020 bubble. His team wasn’t, but Jarry was. Also remember PHN’s exclusive report on 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 player doesn’t do that, nor does a player unsure if he’s the best option.
I have no doubt about Jarry in the future. Certainly not the regular season in which he is a two-time All-Star, and not in the playoffs where a little luck and a little health would go a long way.
Six years, $36 million? OK.
While the cost may seem high today, and would represent an increase of around $2.5 million per year, the salary cap increases “significantly” after the 2023-24 season, according to the deputy. Commissioner Bill Daly.
Moreover, this means that the cost for goalkeepers does not decrease. It also won’t walk on water.
Just imagine the Penguins building a contending team but missing a goaltender in Crosby-Malkin-Letang’s final years. Ask the 2022 Edmonton Oilers what it’s like to be so close, but so far away because they didn’t have adequate goaltenders.
Now there’s the matter of Joel Blomqvist, who PHN recently named the Penguins’ top prospect. It will likely be a few years before Blomgqvist is at full speed, but there’s no guarantee he’s the NHL’s number one goaltender. There’s no guarantee he’ll be better than Jarry either.
In 2017, the Penguins had great offers for Matt Murray before moving Marc-André Fleury after the season (giving Vegas a second-round pick to take Fleury to the expansion draft). Perhaps Penguins general manager Ron Hextall will handle the decision differently. Or not. However, without an upcoming expansion project, Hextall’s best-case scenario is to have two commercial chips to choose from.
Agree or not with the Penguins’ offseason plan, they brought everyone back. Hextall did not re-sign the players for an extended farewell tour. If there is even a glimmer of sunshine under the last window of the championship, a goalkeeper is not important but absolutely essential.
Of course, the Penguins can wait and see. See how Jarry fares in the 2023 playoffs, which looks like a good bet the Penguins will make.
See if Jarry excels or flatlines.
It’s a bet. If Jarry does well, prices go up. If he doesn’t do well, the price…stays the same. For example, Darcy Kuemper provided perhaps the smoothest goaltending performance by a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender since Antti Niemi supported the Chicago Blackhawks over a decade ago.
Kuemper, 32, signed a five-year, $26.25 million contract with the Washington Capitals this summer.
Jarry’s price will not drop below the AAV of $5.25 million. So why not sign it now? Today’s pay cut is tomorrow’s bargain, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have made some bargains this summer in exchange for a warrant.
A dollar saved is a dollar spent elsewhere.
So a 27-year-old goaltender in his prime who started 58 games last season with a .919 save percentage played two All-Star games and has yet to reach his full potential – yes, show the money to Jarry.