James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious
Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Nothing can swing a playoff series quite like a red-hot (or ice-cold) goalie. When you’re charting the importance of a goalie, you don’t compare them to a two-way center or elite defenseman. Instead, you’re often asking how a goalie’s importance compares to, say, a quarterback.

Yet, for as important as goalies are, they’re extremely difficult to predict. Some may even call them “voodoo.”

Uncomfortably, you don’t necessarily “get what you pay for” with NHL goaltending. Even so, during the past two offseasons, it sure feels like the “floor” keeps rising on what you pay for NHL goaltending — whether that netminder’s track record is strong or not.

Among other things, these recent trends only make (relatively) reliable goaltending more precious, especially on team-friendly deals.

Even shots in the dark are costing at least $2.75 million per year

After wearing out his welcome with the Capitals, Vitek Vanecek received a new opportunity by way of a trade to the Devils.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Samsonov Vanecek
Both of these goalies found new teams this offseason. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

For a goalie who experienced enough ups and downs to possibly be labeled something of a reclamation project, it’s striking that the Devils still paid up quite a bit for Vanecek: a three-year deal that carries a $3.4M cap hit.

At first, that at least feels a little steep. But then you realize that it more-or-less falls in line with the floor rising for the goalie market. Even goalies with limited track records mostly fetch $2.75M per year. Consider some of the mid-level signings:

  • Vanecek: three years, $3.4M cap hit (Devils).
  • Alexandar Georgiev: three years, $3.4M cap hit (Avalanche).
  • Kaapo Kähkönen: two years, $2.75M AAV (Sharks).
  • Anton Forsberg: three years, $2.745M AAV (Senators).
  • Technically, the Maple Leafs traded for Matt Murray‘s contract from the Senators. It doesn’t feel unreasonable to throw him in this group, however, as he carries a considerable cap hit (about $4.7M) amid muted expectations.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Then, add in some weightier investments, such as Jack Campbell‘s contract with the Oilers, and the Red Wings’ proactive Ville Husso addition.

For some, it inspires a reasonable response: all of that spending makes the Capitals’ investment in Darcy Kuemper feel like a better “calculated risk.”

Overall, not a bad point. Yet, with Kuemper’s age (32) and his history of injuries — most recently an eye injury that forced him to work on tracking — there’s enough risk there that Washington could regret the move. (Injuries and health challenges often get worse, especially for big goalies.)

Instead, a different point lingered. The select few NHL teams with excellent goalies (or, let’s be honest, goalies they think are excellent) at value prices should thank their lucky stars.

And, in cases where those bargains are running out soon, they really might want to use that as motivation to go for it. Consider a team-friendly but short-term goalie contract the netminding equivalent to a rookie contract. You may only get one window where a difference-making person is making team-friendly money.

The $5M-ish Goalie Club: Shesterkin, Demko, Saros

Igor Shesterkin: $5.6667M cap hit for three more seasons (through 2024-25)

Personally, Igor Shesterkin was my pick for best goalie in the world in 2021-22. Hockey Viz’s goalie saving charts provide one way to measure Shesterkin’s historically great season. Saving close to 50 goals above expected is truly ludicrous, and you can still make a Hart Trophy debate for Shesterkin. Once he got over a few early struggles, he was spectacular during the playoffs, too.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Shesterkin Viz
via Hockey Viz

Considering how much the Rangers leaned on him (and figure to keep leaning on him), he may slip next year. Perhaps you don’t think Shesterkin’s the absolute best goalie in the world, tabbing the reliable machine Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s perfectly fair.

For the Rangers, that debate is mostly noise. He’s an incredible steal at a bit less than $5.7M per year, and in the meat of his prime at 26 years old.

One can only guess how much Shesterkin will cost in three years. For the time being, the Rangers should try to make the most of this bargain (not to mention whatever’s left of the peaks for Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider).

Juuse Saros: $5M cap hit for three more seasons

For the past couple seasons, Juuse Saros has stood alongside Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy as a workhorse goalie who combines the quantity of all of those starts with the quality of making tough saves. Last season, Saros and Hellebuyck were the only two goalies in the league to make 1,900 saves and face at least 2,000 shots.

By Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Above Average metric, Saros was in select company the past two seasons: 23.0 GSAA last season, and 20.9 in 2020-21.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Saros
Predators stretched Saros to the limit. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)

That whole time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Predators were riding Saros too hard. Whether it was fatigue or just bad luck, Saros suffered an injury at the end of the regular season, and was unavailable for the playoffs.

As it stands, there’s some room to worry about such a workload for a goalie who succeeds at least in part based on world-class athleticism.

Much like Hellebuyck, it’s impressive to note that value the Predators already extracted from their goalie bargain. Saros is a steal at $5M, still young at 27, and cheap for three years. Really, his ascent to the elite makes the Predators’ rebuild phobia easier to stomach.

Canucks found themselves a gem with Demko

In many of these cases, NHL teams are reaping the rewards from drafting and developing their own goalies. For all that’s gone wrong with the Canucks, they have some promising young core pieces, and Thatcher Demko may just provide the most bang-for-the-puck. (Though Quinn Hughes is a nice value, especially in a defenseman market that went pretty bonkers last summer.)

Demko’s merely 26, and if he’s truly as elite as he looks, his deal may end up being more valuable than others. That’s because his $5M cap hit lingers for four seasons (through 2025-26), one more than Shesterkin.

Demko stands with Vasilevskiy and Saros as a young goalie who maybe faced too much of a workload. As time goes on, that’s something for the Canucks to think about.

Most of all, they should avoid wasting a great opportunity where Demko’s getting paid less than he’s worth.

Short-but-sweet NHL goalie bargains

Connor Hellebuyck: $6.166M for two more seasons

You could argue that the Jets already got their money’s worth for Connor Hellebuyck’s six-year, $37M contract. He’s been one of the truly great workhorses in the NHL, propping up some abysmal Jets defenses.

Seattle Kraken v Winnipeg Jets
You don’t see Hellebuyck in the “backup tonight cap” often. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

But the Jets could end up haunted by the thought that they wasted having one of the best goalies in the world at such a team-friendly $6.166M cap hit. (The Jets have also not-quite fully exploited the value they’ve enjoyed with the likes of Mark Scheifele.)

At 29, Hellebuyck could very well deliver far above his cap hit for these remaining two seasons. With Rick Bowness being fixated on defense above anything else (at least in Dallas), it may be a more nurturing situation.

Really, though, this contract is part of a fascinating window for Winnipeg. Scheifele’s only under contract for two more seasons, and Pierre-Luc Dubois could set things up to walk as a free agent around that time.

If things don’t work out, that Hellebuyck contract could be a key part of a Jets rebuild. Either way, it’s already been a bargain for Winnipeg, and could very well be extremely fruitful for two more seasons.

Ilya Sorokin: $4M for two more seasons

For those who pay attention to stats along the lines of Goals Saved Above Average/Expected (there are quite a few variations of the general idea), two names rose as 2021-22 went along: Ilya Sorokin and Ville Husso. In Sorokin’s case, he built a credible argument to end up a Vezina Trophy finalist.

Amusingly, the biggest nitpick of the Islanders’ savvy, projection-based investment with Sorokin is that the savings are a bit brief. The 26-year-old’s $4M cap hit only runs for two more seasons.

Two other factors loom. For one, it remains to be seen if Barry Trotz’s departure makes life tougher for Islanders goalies. Beyond that, there’s the other Islanders goalie: Semyon Varlamov carrying a $5M cap hit dilutes some of the bargain of having a possibly elite young goalie at $4M.

To play “4D Chess” for a second: perhaps Varlamov eats up enough starts to limit Sorokin’s volume, and then the Islanders might extend Sorokin for another value contract? Maybe that type of thinking slips toward Charlie Kelly’s mailroom conspiracy board, but if nothing else, it’s at least a short-term boon for the Islanders.

Premium prices probably justified

Andrei Vasilevskiy: $9.5 million AAV for six seasons (through 2027-28)

Over and over again, I wonder if the Lightning will finally lean on Andrei Vasilevskiy so much that he “breaks.” Year after year, he defies those worries.

With Vasilevskiy, you wade through certain layers of nitpicking. Close to the time he signed his big, current deal, people pointed out that he mainly saved around the number of goals he was expected to. When wading into “best in the world” debates, one might point to relative hiccups, like so-so numbers in the Maple Leafs series.

Yet, as a whole, Vasilevskiy pulls off the remarkable feat of being a bargain at $9.5 million.

By racking up all of those miles — not just heavy in the regular season, but with three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances — I still wonder if the bottom might fall out. Such a thought could make that lengthy, $9.5M investment go “Just About Bob.”

Of course, there’s an obvious distinction even if Vasilevskiy starts to shew closer to Sergei Bobrovsky. The Lightning have already won two Stanley Cups with him.

And would it be that shocking if he just kept chugging along? I’d love to see Tampa Bay find a way for more backup help, but if that never happens, Vasilevskiy is still (somehow) just 27.

Other goalies who may or may not be bargains

  • Jacob Markstrom is tricky. At 32, Markstrom’s play could slip, and the Flames may take a serious step back in front of him. Still, his $6M cap hit looks more reasonable considering the far-less-proven goalies who are making comparable money.
  • What does the future hold for John Gibson? When he signed at $6.4 million, it seemed like a mega-steal. Yet, the 28-year-old’s results have been mixed-at-best the past three seasons. There’s talent there, but that $6.4M AAV through 2026-27 is something of a mystery. Maybe we won’t really get a true answer until he’s traded, or the Ducks make big improvements?
  • Jake Oettinger — currently 23 and an RFA — stands as a fascinating goalie contract situation to watch.
  • While playoff injury issues soured the end, both Frederik Andersen (32, $4.5M) and Antti Raanta (33, $2M) delivered serious value for a Hurricanes team that could be even better in 2022-23. Both are entering contract years, though, so those savings may be short-lived.
  • In surveying the NHL goalie trade landscape instead of free agents, James Reimer was one of my biggest recommendations. “Frequently above-average, sometimes quite good” might not be the sexiest thing in the world, especially for a 34-year-old goalie. Yet, with the way prices went, one year of Reimer at just $2.2M looked and looks really appealing.
  • Truthfully, I have no sweet clue what to expect from Ilya Samsonov. That said, there are worse bets than $1.8M for a 25-year-old whose show flashes of brilliance. (You know, like almost $4.7M for Matt Murray.)

In the end, it’s about making the best, most-educated guesses you can about a mysterious position

To reiterate: even the most promising-looking goalies on this list could flop. And it’s not outrageous for a deal that looks dicey (multiple years of Jordan Binnington at $5M, maybe even Bobrovsky?) could work out, short-term and/or long-term.

There are just so many variables that go into goalies succeeding, failing, or merely getting by.

That said, if recent seasons are decent indications of what’s next for at least the most established goalies, then Shesterkin, Saros, Demko, Sorokin, and others could improve their teams’ odds in enormous ways.

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    Burns, Pacioretty trades give Hurricanes what they badly needed

    Burns, Pacioretty trades give Hurricanes what they badly needed
    Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images
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    The Carolina Hurricanes are no strangers to pulling off smart moves during the offseason — in free agency, and at the NHL Draft. So, to an extent, maybe this is business as usual. Yet, when you consider how aggressively — and brilliantly — they addressed goal-scoring issues by trading for Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, this is one of the Hurricanes’ most exciting offseasons.

    Sure, losing a versatile forward like Vincent Trocheck hurts. And, after brushing off the ugly elements of a Tony DeAngelo signing, he rewarded them with good bang-for-the-buck.

    From a big-picture perspective, though, those losses don’t necessarily change the team’s trajectory. While the Hurricanes take on certain risks with both Burns and Pacioretty, those trades could be breakthrough moments for a team constantly knocking on the door to contention.

    [Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

    After falling to the Rangers in a tight series, Rod Brind’Amour acknowledged the possibility that the Hurricanes needed that extra bit of finish.

    “Do we have elite goal scorers? Maybe not,” Brind’Amour said, via the Associated Press. “But we have great players. We’re built a little differently than some other teams. That’s OK. You’ve got to play to your strength.”

    For years, the Hurricanes have consistently scored less goals than expected. They’ve often been doomed by a double-whammy: bad shooting luck mixed with goalies who gave up more than they seemingly should have.

    Like diligent craftsmen, the Hurricanes have added layers of polish and nuance each offseason. In some cases, that meant addressing glaring issues, such as goaltending. But it often still felt like a band getting heavier and louder, rather than exploring different sounds and genres.

    In adding Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, the Hurricanes could hit both notes: playing to their strengths to a better degree, but maybe adding a new wrinkle. Maybe it ends with a “Ballad of Stanley Cup?”

    A team in love with point shots adds a point shot machine

    If you follow the Hurricanes, you likely know that they play a very straight-line, sometimes “smash mouth” game. Where other contenders prize control — of the puck, and when they risk losing the puck to gain scoring chances — the Hurricanes overwhelm. Maybe they should be called the Blizzard, as they try to bury opponents under flurries of chances and pressure.

    (They don’t give you delicious-if-strangely-salty ice cream, though.)

    Hockey Viz’s heat map for the Hurricanes captures that attack in detail:

    Burns, Pacioretty trades give Hurricanes what they badly needed Hurricanes point shots
    via Hockey Viz

    Normally, such an abundance of point shots would be a concern. Those shot attempts often qualify as hockey’s version of “empty calories.”

    Yet, as you can see from all of that heat in front of the net, the Hurricanes still create a lot of “high-danger” chances. They just do so in their own, unusual way.

    At various times, I’ve opined that the Sharks could’ve used Brent Burns’ dangerous shot to better success if he was shooting from more dangerous places. To an extent, I’d love to see the analytics-leaning Hurricanes also encourage him to occasionally wonder to Alex Ovechkin‘s “office.”

    (Even if it’s just temp work, so to speak.)

    But the delight with Brent Burns’ penchant for point shots is that it mixes so well with the Hurricanes’ style. Maybe his point shots could be the Reese’s peanut butter cups to that already-tasty blizzard?

    Pacioretty may actually be the most enticing Hurricanes addition

    Considering his array of exotic beasts and trophy case including a Norris, it’s not surprising that Brent Burns is the biggest name of the Hurricanes’ big additions.

    Personally, though? Max Pacioretty actually seems like the most important addition.

    Since joining the Golden Knights in 2018-19, Pacioretty averaged .87 points per game (194 in 224 games), tying him with Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan O'Reilly for 48th-best. Only Sebastian Aho (1.01) and Teuvo Teravainen (.88) averaged more during that span.

    Of course, goals are what the Hurricanes sought most of all, and few score quite like “Patches.” During the past three seasons, Pacioretty ties Aho and others for 18th-place with 47 goals at 5-on-5.

    Correct for time missed, and he’s even more impressive. Since 2019-20, Pacioretty averaged a 1.26 goals per 60 minutes, a top-10 rate. He’s not just a player who scores goals or does nothing else, either, as his underlying stats are promising.

    Honestly, I believe that Mark Stone‘s ascent to more mainstream recognition might have kept Pacioretty’s outstanding work in the shadows a bit. Maybe sprinkle in numbers that were diluted by injuries and COVID-shortened seasons, and you get to a fuller explanation.

    In free agency, teams might find snipers. However, those players often skew toward the one-dimensional. You’re unlikely to find a truly elite option. By going the trade route, the Hurricanes landed a more likely upgrade — and potentially a big one.

    Low-risk, potentially high rewards … but there are SOME risks

    To an extent, these trades really feel like free agent moves because the Hurricanes gave up so little to land Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty. At least, in immediate terms. (Perhaps the Sharks will treasure the goalie prospect they received?)

    Even the contracts aren’t as scary as you’d see in free agency.

    • Work through the name recognition, and Brent Burns at $8M is a bit steep. Yet, with salary retention, his cap hit’s now a more digestible $5.28M per season through 2024-25 (the same year Jaccob Slavin needs a new contract).
    • Pacioretty’s $7M cap hit only runs through the 2022-23 season.

    On paper, you’re not going to make much better bets at about $12.3M in salary cap space. Particularly without massive term.

    But there are risks here. As much as one praises Pacioretty for producing when healthy, he carries risks of additional injuries. You could argue he’s an “old 33” considering all he’s been through.

    For those who don’t delve into Cap Friendly on the reg, it might be shocking to realize that Brent Burns is already 37.

    Ideally, someone like Slavin can be the stay-at-home defenseman while Burns roves like one of his exotic beasts. But there’s the risk that Burns roams to such a degree that he gets lost — to the point that even Slavin could get compromised.

    As time goes on, the risk:reward ratio with Burns’ game has become less of a net-positive. It doesn’t mean that Burns isn’t worth it — especially at a reduced price — but it’s something to watch. After all, the Hurricanes are hoping to contend, so high-profile mistakes could sour a situation.

    Most of all, Burns is a big beast of a man, and he’s put a lot of miles on his body. Injuries and general decline both loom as credible threats.

    Hit all the right buttons, and this could be the best Hurricanes team yet

    So, yes, there’s some fine print here and there. But the larger point remains: the Hurricanes addressed some of their biggest (few remaining) concerns with trades for Burns and Pacioretty.

    Really, even if this all translates to fairly similar results, this should be exciting to watch.

    Other teams could learn from this mixture of patience (keeping some salary cap space available) and aggression (jumping on an opportunity when a team needs to shake a contract loose). For all we know, they may be taking notes trying to chase what the Hurricanes become in 2022-23.

    Maple Leafs set up for big changes soon — if they want them

    Maple Leafs set up for big changes soon -- if they want them
    Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

    As a team that’s perpetually butting its head against the salary cap ceiling, you’d think that the Maple Leafs look doomed to that fate forever.

    Often, that’s the outlook of many teams who spend big and take large risks to contend. If the current plan fails and the GM gets booted, the next person usually isn’t just looking to improve the team. They usually have to clean up big messes. (See: Mike Grier being left to clean up the Sharks.)

    Yet, the scary thing about the Maple Leafs could also feel liberating.

    If things don’t work out in this era of the Maple Leafs, they’re structured for big changes. It’s a thought that’s hovered here and there. Credit to Cap Friendly for tweeting it out in a way that really hammers home the point in a visual manner:

    Saying goodbye to Matthews/Marner would mostly be bad, but Maple Leafs can change gears if they want to

    Over the years, rival fans have tormented Maple Leafs fans about Auston Matthews leaving town, possibly for the Arizona Coyotes. Sometimes Maple Leafs fans themselves have wallowed in that grim scenario, or other similar ones.

    Matthews, 24, didn’t just sign a contract that carried a hefty (but actually still very team-friendly) $11.64M cap hit in 2019. It also only kept him under contract for mid-range term. In a league where star players almost always sign for seven or eight years, Matthews merely inked a five-year contract.

    Similarly, Mitch Marner and (excessive trade rumor magnet) William Nylander signed six-year contracts with the Maple Leafs.

    Really, the standout long-term contracts were handed out to John Tavares when he was a hot-ticket free agent, and Morgan Rielly to keep him off that market.

    Yet, even with Tavares’ often-criticized contract, you can already see some light at the end of the tunnel. His $11M salary cap hit expires after the 2024-25 season.

    [A deep dive on the Matt Murray gamble]

    Overall, it’s still fair to picture this working against the Maple Leafs.

    After vastly improving on defense (to the point that he justifies Selke Trophy mentions), Auston Matthews surged to his first Hart Trophy in 2022-23. He’s one of those players who are in rarified air where they could essentially “name their price” on their next contract. The Athletic’s model placed Matthews’ “market value” at $22.3 million. The Maple Leafs — or some other team — would be lucky if Matthews’ next contract isn’t a lot more expensive than his current one.

    As much as people love to pick on Mitch Marner and William Nylander, they also deliver far more than people give them credit for. Marner’s absolutely an elite playmaker who’s unusually dangerous as a penalty kill counterpuncher. By that same Athletic model, he wasn’t worth his much-maligned near-$11M price tag; he was worth more: $17.5M. While it’s not as dramatic, William Nylander’s easily worth a cap hit in the $7M ballpark (in my opinion, and based on that model).

    So it’s not as though this situation couldn’t be difficult for Toronto. That said, it’s fascinating that if the Maple Leafs decide this mix isn’t working, they can shift gears more easily than any perennial contender in recent memory.

    Would a full-blown rebuild be wise? Probably not, but that route could even end up open.

    Kyle Dubas‘ window is even smaller

    That’s especially relevant because of just how big of a gamble Kyle Dubas took this offseason.

    For all the defenses about the term not being that bad, Matt Murray still having two years on a scary cap hit (even post-retention) of $4.6875M makes things worse. Perhaps you can trade out of those problems. Maybe Murray’s significant injury history nudges him to LTIR. Maybe a cheap buyout after 2022-23 makes this truly a one-year bet.

    Still, one year might be all Dubas has. Maybe Dubas isn’t actually risking his job on Matt Murray, but it sure feels that way, and is presented that way.

    Maybe not the room to make scorched earth decisions that hurt Dubas in the future, or a potential replacement?

    Again, that’s where this situation could get really interesting.

    Look throughout both long-term and recent NHL history with GMs on the hot seat. In many cases, those GMs make desperate moves that set the next GM up with serious messes.

    Maybe a tight salary cap situation actually keeps Dubas from throwing Hail Mary interceptions that would put a potential replacement in bad field position. Either way, this team isn’t saddled with a ton of bad contracts that stretch far into the future.

    Potential near-future decisions for whoever runs the Maple Leafs

    So, that opens up room to operate for whoever’s calling the shots. You can look at decisions in the frame of when contracts expire/when players are eligible for extensions.

    • There are still some immediate questions to answer. Rasmus Sandin may require salary cap gymnastics, or even a pragmatic trade.
    • Quite a few depth players approach contract years. Michael Bunting, 26, appears headed for a big raise. Ilya Samsonov, 25, could raise his stock as a pending RFA. The Maple Leafs may appreciate certain deals coming off the books, such as Alexander Kerfoot. (The 27-year-old is a nice player, but maybe extravagant at $3.5M, at least when every dollar counts.)
    • Plenty of significant deals expire after 2023-24, so the 2023 offseason could provide crucial clarity. The Maple Leafs may decide to extend both Matthews and Nylander. Three aging defensemen see contracts expire after 2023-24: Mark Giordano, Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie. Naturally, Toronto could move on from Muzzin and/or Brodie to make other future moves, as both cost $5M+. Muzzin’s health issues may also eventually become LTIR material. Either way, it’s possible there could be an eventual changing of the guard on defense.

    [Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

    • Two Lightning-rod contracts (both essentially around $11M AAVs) expire after 2024-25: John Tavares and Mitch Marner. If the Maple Leafs keep but don’t extend Matthews and Nylander before their deals expire, Toronto could grapple with a potential Marner extension during the same 2024 offseason where they may also go through some UFA drama with Matthews and/or Nylander. For all we know, there could also be rumblings about Tavares sticking around on a “hometown discount.”

    Interestingly, there’s one other wrinkle to either Dubas or a replacement GM having future flexibility to tweak or maintain the Maple Leafs.

    Few of these big names have no-trade or no-movement clauses. (At least the forwards; Rielly, Muzzin, Brodie, and Justin Holl all have at least no-trade clauses.)

    None of Matthews, Marner, or Nylander have no-trade clauses. Tavares is the big exception, as he has a flat-out no-movement clause. So Dubas — or a Dubas replacement — could carry more power in trading out core pieces if the Maple Leafs decide that the group is rotten.

    A pivot would probably make more sense than a total change, but flexibility is nice

    To reiterate: Matthews, Marner, and Nylander needing new deals soon likely leans closer to “bad” than “good.” (Instead of complaining about those cap hits, fans should probably cross their fingers that future deals look similar.)

    Still, many are understandably running low on patience. While you’re not going to land players like Matthews and Marner often — even top prospects the last few years haven’t looked close — the frustration of falling a Game 7 or three short of playoff series wins can gnaw at your patience.

    The Maple Leafs don’t have everything locked in place, which could end up a negative. But at least they’re not stuck if they want to shift gears.

    Penguins make Father Time biggest rival with Petry-Matheson trade

    Penguins make Father Time biggest rival with Petry-Matheson trade
    Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    An already-noteworthy Penguins defenseman trade involving John Marino and Ty Smith was apparently just part of the puzzle. Following a trade headlined by Michael Matheson going to the Canadiens and Jeff Petry heading to Pittsburgh, the Penguins larger defensive shuffling comes into focus.

    It also only hammers home something that was already true. The Penguins and Father Time are primed for an epic battle over the next few (several?) years.

    Penguins trade forJeff Petry (34, $6.25 million cap hit through 2024-25) and Ryan Poehling (25, $750K for one season)

    Canadiens receive: Mike Matheson (28, $4.875M through 2025-26) and a 2023 fourth-round pick.

    Petry trade continues theme: Penguins are going big, and going old

    John Marino is a 25-year-old right-handed defenseman with strong defensive results and mixed offense that’s trended downward lately. He’s fairly cheap ($4.4M), which could be especially appealing if you agree, as his contract runs through 2026-27.

    Matheson is quite a bit younger than Petry, too. In the end, the Penguins swapped out Matheson (left-handed) and Marino (right-handed) for Ty Smith (left-handed reclamation project) and Petry (right-handed).

    [Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

    But age is the more interesting factor than handedness (which, it must be said, teams sometimes obsess about with defensemen).

    Both Petry and Sidney Crosby are 34, while Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are 35. For every 27-year-old Jake Guentzel, there’s another 30-year-old in a prominent spot, like Bryan Rust or Brian Dumoulin.

    By name recognition alone, Jeff Petry is the biggest piece in these interconnected trades. The Penguins are banking on him maintaining a high level play, even as he’s slipped from borderline-Norris-material to “just” very, very good.

    If things trend the wrong way, the Penguins could look devastatingly old in rapid fashion. If Petry gives the Penguins a bigger push in the short-term, they’re probably OK with long-term pain.

    Via Cap Friendly, the Matheson – Petry – Smith – Marino swaps leave the Penguins with about $2M in salary cap space.

    They also may still have a glut of defensemen:

    Canadiens extract Matheson out of Petry trade rather than futures

    Let’s be honest: sometimes you find a gem in the fourth round. It’s just not very likely.

    (Three of the four defensemen in these trades were drafted in either the first or second round, while John Marino was selected 154th overall in 2015.)

    Honestly, in picturing most Jeff Petry trade scenarios, I pictured the Canadiens snagging something like a first-rounder or a quality prospect off of a fairly big-name, right-handed defenseman. Instead, the focus was on a younger defenseman.

    Matheson, 28, is younger and cheaper, although his contract lasts for an additional season. At first, I assumed the Canadiens got lured in by an unusually good season from Matheson.

    Upon further research, the two compare closely over a three-year sample, actually. Consider this three-year RAPM chart comparison of Petry and Matheson from Evolving Hockey:


    Big-picture wise, I believe the Canadiens should be skewing even younger. In fact, I’ve been taken aback by the Canadiens balking at offers to trade away a problem contract like that of Josh Anderson.

    However, if Matheson is close to the player Petry is now — and different measures, including “the eye test” may inspire differing opinions — then this can still be a sensible trade for the Canadiens. Again, he’s considerably younger, and if you like the contract, then you’re covered for four seasons.

    It’s also possible that the Habs aren’t done yet. The Canadiens are tight to the salary cap, and that’s with Kirby Dach as an RFA.

    Trade: Devils land Marino, Penguins gain space for Petry

    Trade: Devils land Marino, Penguins gain salary cap space
    Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Devils and Penguins combined in a trade of defenseman that could accomplish important (if quite different) things for both teams. At first, it seemed like the Penguins sought out salary cap space. Yet, later on Saturday, it became clear the actual goal was to make space for an additional trade that sent out Mike Matheson for Jeff Petry.

    Devils trade for: John Marino (25, $4.4 million cap hit through 2026-27)

    Penguins receive: Ty Smith, 2023 third-round pick

    With Marino trade, Devils could end up with strong right-side defense

    Curiously, the Devils are a team that possesses at least one (relative) strength that other teams seek out: right-handed/right-side defensemen.

    In this case, the Devils move out a young right-handed defenseman who struggled (especially in 2021-22) for a more established RHD in John Marino.

    While the Devils boast a fancy stats dynamo — almost curiously so — in Jonas Siegenthaler on the left, the rest of their most noteworthy defensemen play on the right: Dougie Hamilton, Marino, and Damon Severson.

    [Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

    In the cases of Hamilton (29, $9 million cap hit through 2027-28) and now Marino, the Devils are paying out significant term and money for those defensemen. Severson’s situation is cloudier, as the 27-year-old carries a $4.16667M cap hit — but just for next season.

    Although it likely stings to miss out on Johnny Gaudreau (for whatever reason[s]), the Devils have been active this offseason. Between Ondrej Palat and Marino, they’ve added $10.4M and some support to their roster.

    Marino brings quite a bit to the table.

    Penguins clear cap space to eventually trade for Petry

    Devils Penguins Ty Smith John Marino trade
    (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    After tensions rose, the Penguins convinced Evgeni Malkin to stick around. Even with all of Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust taking less in salary cap terms than they (likely) would’ve fetched as free agents, the Penguins still likely realized that those retentions would mean someone else would be out.

    (Really, they might have viewed their defense that way even without those signings.)

    That became even clearer when the Penguins somewhat-surprisingly signed Jan Rutta to a three-year deal with a $2.75M cap hit.

    Eventually, it wasn’t just John Marino who shuffled out. The Penguins used that space and a Mike Matheson trade to add Jeff Petry. Understandably, Ty Smith may feel like an afterthought in all of these moves, but he could be interesting too.

    A reclamation project in Smith?

    From Justin Schultz to John Marino himself, the Penguins display a recent history of getting the most out of intriguing-if-struggling defensemen. Maybe they can work that magic again with Smith?

    Smith, 22, carries some pedigree as the 17th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

    Alarmingly, Smith sunk as a sophomore after a reasonably promising rookie season. That can be seen in many ways, including Smith’s ice time slipping from 20:07 per night in 2020-21 to just 17:30 per game last season.

    Yet, the primary goal of the Marino trade was to gain salary cap space for the Penguins. If they can unlock some untapped potential in Ty Smith, it could be a really nice move.

    As it stands, this seems like strong work by New Jersey, and Pittsburgh deal with cap realities.