Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, the Pittsburgh Penguins are destined to make a decision as far as who will backup Marc-Andre Fleury.
Jeff Zatkoff, who received a two-year extension back in December, served as Fleury’s backup last season, but now that the organization has gone out and added Thomas Greiss, there’s uncertainty as to who will claim the title in October.
Nowadays, teams just don’t carry three netminders, and considering Pittsburgh’s salary cap dilemma, one of the two will probably find themselves left off the roster.
And unfortunately for Zatkoff, it very well could be him.
Performing in first 20 games at the NHL level for the Penguins last season, Zatkoff was so-so. Posting a record of 12-6-2, Zatkoff finished the season owning a 2.61 goals-against-average with a .912 save percentage. And although those numbers weren’t exactly eye-poppingly enough to solidify his roster spot next season, you have to figure he’s only going to improve in time.
However, as I mentioned, because Greiss is now a Penguin, the team may not give Zatkoff that opportunity to blossom. There’s no definite conclusion that’s how it will play out, obviously, but it’s certainly looking that way.
Between Greiss and Zatkoff, they both were selected in the third round of their respective drafts, and are each similar in size – Greiss (6-foot-1, 220 pounds), Zatkoff (6-foot-2, 179 pounds). Accompanied with the fact both have never served as a starting goaltender in the NHL, there’s really nothing that separates one from the other. Except Greiss’ experience playing in the western conference.
Due to the fact the western conference is incredibly stacked with overpowering clubs, Greiss’ sufficient 2013-14 campaign with the then Phoenix Coyotes – now Arizona – suggest he has an edge over Zatkoff. Compiling a record of 10-8-5 with two shutouts, Greiss registered an impressive 2.29 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage. Impressive, because in five more games and against far more established opponents, Greiss’ numbers wound up better than Zatkoff’s.
You also have to factor in how difficult being a backup is. Never knowing when your number is called, although they’ll more than likely be well-rested, rust is sure to play a role in their eventual outcome. And considering Greiss was able to manage those type of statistics last season playing in the west, it speaks volumes to what kind of goaltender he can be in the east.
Another reason to assume Greiss will take Zatkoff’s job is the contract length he was signed to – one-year. It’s highly doubtful that general manager Jim Rutherford would bring Greiss in on a one-year basis to only place him in the minors. So, the likelihood Greiss slots in as Fleury’s counterpart is extremely high.
You have to feel for Zatkoff though. Spending his entire career in the minors, Zatkoff finally was given a chance to showcase his ability this past season, and should he be demoted it’ll definitely be a little devastating.
Who knows, maybe head coach Mike Johnston will choose Zatkoff over Greiss, or keep all three goaltenders. Nothing’s definitive yet, and you can bet Zatkoff will play his butt off in the preseason to earn backup duties.