The Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltending situation ranks among the worst in the NHL, and without significant changes, the Pens’ season might spiral out of control
Without Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Penguins do not win either Stanley Cup. The NHL’s best goaltending duo each came up huge throughout both cup runs, with each playing their role perfectly.
Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith aren’t going to backstop the Penguins to a Stanley Cup final, even with a vastly improved defense in front of them.
The Penguins rank second-worst in the league in save percentage (.879) and tied for third-worst in goals allowed per game (3.57 per game). Jarry especially has struggled this season, with a .875 save percentage and 3.74 goals allowed per game.
Jarry has been wildly inconsistent in net this season. He’s allowed at least three goals in all but one game this season, the lone exception coming courtesy of a two goal output from the New York Rangers on Jan. 24.
DeSmith hasn’t been good either, with a .885 save percentage and 2.84 goals allowed per game. However, DeSmith wasn’t chosen over former goaltender Matt Murray to lead the franchise into the future and awarded a three year, $10.5 million contract.
At just 25 years old, with only one-ish season of being the starting goaltender for the Penguins, Jarry is not a lost cause. He’s one season removed from an All-Star appearance and a .921 season save percentage. But the Pens don’t have time to wait for him if they have serious title aspirations this season.
The Penguins need someone to pair with Jarry this season, but the options aren’t exactly plentiful.
So, who is out there for the Penguins?
Would they be the Pittsburgh Penguins if they weren’t linked to former Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at least once a season?
With reports that the Penguins had inquired about Fleury multiple times this season, all before new GM Ron Hextall and president of hockey ops Brian Burke were hired, the rumor mills started churning.
Fleury has long been coveted by Penguins faithful, and it appears the front office made a push to re-acquire the legendary goaltender, but it does not appear the Vegas Golden Knights will be moving him.
In the midst of a Vezina-caliber season (.937 save percentage and 1.56 goals allowed per game in nine games) with the first-place Golden Knights, Fleury himself would likely not want to leave a better team for the Penguins. The Golden Knights appear to agree. Elliotte Friedman said in his weekly “31 Thoughts” column for Sportsnet that he doesn’t believe Fleury is available for trade.
Even if he were made available, his cap hit of $7 million this season and next would require some serious finagling from Hextall and Burke to become cap compliant.
It’s just not likely that Fleury returns to the Penguins this season.
Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic (subscription required) pointed out a potential link between the Arizona Coyotes and the Penguins regarding goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The Coyotes, currently sitting at 4th in the West division, were hit with heavy penalties for illegal front office activities last season and forced to forfeit draft picks. There hasn’t been a mass exodus this season, but the reports out of the desert continue to look bleak.
The Coyotes may be a mess, but Kuemper has been anything but during his time in Arizona. The 30-year-old has allowed just 2.26 goals per game with a .919 save percentage in 12 games this season. In his two prior seasons with the Coyotes, Kuemper averaged a .927 save percentage and 2.28 goals allowed per game.
Kuemper will make just $4.5 million this season and next, and that number figures to be much easier to manage as opposed to other high-priced goalies on or off the market.
The only problem comes in the form of asking price as Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported last season.
Two league executives told this newspaper Wednesday though the Arizona Coyotes have claimed they’re not going to move goalie Darcy Kuemper because of the success they had during the Play-In round, that could change if new GM Bill Armstrong gets the first-round selection and another piece he wants in return.
With the Coyotes in playoff contention this season, it would stand to reason that the asking price would still be a first round pick and other assets. With this season’s first rounder headed to Minnesota to complete the Jason Zucker trade, the cupboards are already bare. But that’s not new with the Pens.
Kuemper would be a huge boost to a team lacking that steadying presence between the pipes. If the right price can be agreed upon, Kuemper would be a crucial addition down the stretch.
The Rest of the Bunch
If Fleury is unlikely, then Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson is impossible. Jimmy Murphy of Pittsburgh Hockey Now (subscription required) raised the idea of Pittsburgh local Gibson being a target for former Ducks GM Burke.
The rumor is more of a talking point than actual inside information, so we’ll scratch Gibson off the list, too.
In the same Duhatschek article from The Athletic above, he raised the idea of a goaltender swap between the Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins.
The idea of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick coming to Pittsburgh would have been nice five years ago. The 35-year-old, who is making $5.8 million through 2022-23, has posted subpar seasons in each of the last two seasons and is off to another (.887 save percentage and 3.42 goals against average) through seven games this season. Even if the Kings retained salary, no thanks.
So, with Fleury and Gibson likely unavailable and a lack of interest in Quick, it would appear that Kuemper would be the best fit with the Penguins this season.
If Burke and Hextall wanted to make a splash move, a trade for the Coyotes goalie would certainly go a long way in committing to contending this season.
What do you think of the Penguins’ goaltending search? Who would you like the Pens to target in a trade?