2023 Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Preview, Part 1: Tristan Jarry

It is very rare for an NHL general manager to have the luxury of looking at their roster, sitting back and saying, “We really don’t need to do much here, do we?” They might have to find some depth pieces to replace but in those few fortunate instances (like Pittsburgh in 2016 and Tampa Bay in 2020) the team is already well positioned to seriously contend again. 99+% of the time however teams have to make big decisions about how to proceed in the offseason as there is an ever-present need to improve. Professional sports is a business after all, and millions of dollars are thrown around every year to try and fix what’s not working while trying to hang on to what does.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins and their newly-minted president of hockey operations (and interim GM) Kyle Dubas, some challenges lie ahead. Most immediately the team has seven unrestricted free agents, including three key contributors, and there are no obvious replacements for those players coming up through the minors. Pittsburgh does have a good chunk of salary cap space to work with, even more if they decide to buyout Mikael Granlund (as they hopefully will), but the Penguins will potentially be looking for a starting goaltender, a top-six winger, a top-four defenseman, and depth upgrades in a seemingly weak free agent market.

Let’s start with the goaltending situation, since that’s easily the most critical. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh’s 44th overall pick in 2013, survived past both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray to be the Penguins’ starting goaltender, but Jarry has put out just as mixed a performance during his four full years in Pittsburgh as those of his predecessors. In his first and third seasons, he played well enough to garner a lone third-place vote for Vezina consideration as the League’s top goaltender, but in his second and fourth seasons (including this past season) he was much closer to being an average goaltender. Few teams can consider themselves serious Stanley Cup contenders without a consistently above-average or better goaltender, and Jarry has not shown himself to be consistent. There have also been concerns about his health, especially considering that this past season he was in and out of the lineup. Chronic hip injuries have been derailing the careers of some of his peers of late, but it seems as though those fears have nothing to do with Jarry. Nevertheless, it’s tough to bet on a guy that has lacked consistency, particularly at such a critical position on the roster.

The bad news for Kyle Dubas however is that the free agent market for goaltenders is also not great. Jarry is one of five pending free agent goaltenders that played half or more of their team’s games this past season, and in fact only one (Seattle’s Martin Jones) played more than Jarry. Jarry is also the youngest (by at least five years) of all but one of those five goaltenders (Maple Leafs RFA Ilya Samsonov). The only good reason I can see to let Jarry walk in free agency is to take the risk that one of the other goaltenders on the market who played a backup role this past season might be able to step up into a starting role (like Antti Raanta or Frederik Andersen) or see if the likes of Laurent Brossoit or Adin Hill can carry the team. Dubas could also pull the trigger (somehow) on a trade, like for the disillusioned-but-great Connor Hellebuyck, but a move of that caliber requires the kind of assets that Pittsburgh has been dumping for years.

Realistically the best option for Pittsburgh for a starting goaltender is likely just to stick with Jarry. He will be due a raise but it doesn’t have to be a huge number (he made $3.5M these past three seasons, I think an additional $1-$1.5M/year is probably a safe number). He won’t have to worry about his role for at least another year or two, but looming is Joel Blomqvist, the 21-year-old Finn whose performance in his homeland has been impressive. Blomqvist will likely be the starter in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton next year, and he’ll get a real chance to show if he’s up to the task in the American league.