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Penguins Perspectives: The trouble with Tristan

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Monday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Right off the bat, I want to make this clear – I am not saying Tristan Jarry is a bad goalie, not in the least. His numbers are right in line with that of a true number one goalie.

But, if I can cross sports here and quote Mike Tomlin, "The best ability is availability."

Last season, we were all hoping for a redemption story for Jarry. After a serious meltdown against the Islanders in 2021, he appeared poised and motivated to put those playoff demons in the past and lead the Penguins through the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then came a foot injury that held him out until game seven against the Rangers and even then, he was not fully recovered.

So far this year, in 27 games, Jarry has posted a .921 save percentage and looked sharp when he plays.

The problem is due to various injuries this year, Casey DeSmith has been called into action 22 times and Dustin Tokarski has played two games.

Now, let's be honest, injuries are born of a lot of things: circumstance, luck, and randomness. To call someone "injury prone" is a bit of a misnomer. In a sport like hockey, simply stepping onto the ice makes one injury prone.

Just look to the rival Washington Capitals. Not so much anymore, but early in Alex Ovechkin's career, the man played a physical brand of hockey and he's remained healthy. You can't predict or foresee injury.

All of this begs the question, with Jarry set for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of this season, should the Penguins lock the goalie up long-term and make the commitment or look elsewhere?

The regular season numbers are very promising.

In 178 NHL starts, he's posted a 109-52-18 record and a .916 save percentage. That puts him in line with the save percentages of Andrei Vasilevskiy who has posted a career .919, Connor Hellebuyck with a .916, and Linus Ullmark who has a .917.

In fact, his .921 this season puts him among the top goaltenders in the NHL by save percentage with 15 starts or more.

All of those point to a yes, he's worth a new deal and remaining in Pittsburgh.

However, so far, just once in his career has he shown he can be a full-time starter and that was 2021 COVID-19 shortened season when there were only 56 regular season games. That year, he started 38 of those 56.

He did carry the load last season, starting 56 games and posting a .919 save percentage, but a late-season injury rendered him unavailable for the postseason.

Then, in his only season as the starter in the postseason, Jarry surrendered 21 goals in six games and posted a .888 save percentage in 2021.

In the end, I don't think it's quite time to toss Jarry aside.

But this is where Ron Hextall and the Penguins hockey operations department need to be smarter.

While I think there's a rush to pile on Casey DeSmith's recent performances, it's not entirely fair. His .912 career save percentage in 103 NHL starts is pretty well in line for being an NHL backup goalie. That is where our conundrum begins.

We still don't have enough evidence with Jarry on if he can be a consistent NHL starter that shoulders the load. Whether it's injuries or collapse, the last three years have shown that Jarry, when healthy, is a pretty good goalie.

But again, availability is the best ability.

If Casey DeSmith is starting every 10 or so games, we're in business, but he's not a spot starter.

This is where Hextall and the Penguins need to make their move.

Should they opt to re-sign Jarry and keep him here, moving the last year of Casey DeSmith's $1.8 million contract should also be a priority, and finding someone that in theory could be a starting goalie behind Jarry would be wise.

The free agency market this year for goalies is not a strong one which means Hextall and Burke will have to get creative.

In fact, there's an old friend who I think the Penguins might want to make a call about – Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Minnesota Wild find themselves in a similar position as the Penguins, hanging around the postseason, but not really looking like a true contender.

One difference is that the next two seasons for the Wild are going to be about focusing on the future, not the present. The buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will give them nearly $15 million in dead cap space.

If I'm GM Bill Guerin, anyone signed less than three years into the future should be on the table and that includes Fleury.

With players like Brian Dumoulin and Teddy Blueger on expiring deals, the Penguins could look to get Fleury who is signed through next year to just a $3.5 million contract, for a couple of those familiar names.

Now, I don't know what the Wild's thoughts are on Fleury, the future, and the present, but it's worth a call to see if he can be had for the right price. Especially with that much of a cap headache on the horizon.

At the end of the day, this could all be rendered moot with a return to health and a strong performance down the stretch for Jarry, but like this franchise's era…the clock is ticking. 

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