Casey DeSmith

Penguins may face ‘tough decisions’ with goalies thanks to salary cap crunch

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With all of the salary cap uncertainty caused in part by COVID-19, the Penguins may face some tough choices when it comes to their goalies.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford acknowledged as much to The Athletic’s Josh Yohe on Tuesday (sub required).

Specifically, Rutherford discussed two pending RFA goalies who played for the Penguins in 2019-20: Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. With almost $68.3M devoted to the cap even before signing one or both, Rutherford admitted that it will be tough to retain Murray and Jarry.

“Well,” Rutherford said to Yohe. “I’ll say this: If we are going to keep both of them, we’d have to move a few things around on our team. There is a way to do things and to make that work, yes. There are some very, very tough decisions ahead.”

Rutherford compared this situation to losing Marc-Andre Fleury to the expansion draft, as the Penguins simply couldn’t afford to keep both Murray and “MAF.” While the situations might be different, Rutherford faces challenges either way.

Pondering Penguins options with Murray, Jarry, and DeSmith

One name that didn’t really come up in the Yohe story is that of Casey DeSmith, but he’s quite relevant to this situation. Let’s run down the three most prominent Penguins goalie options, then.

Matt Murray

Murray, 25, is a pending RFA whose $3.75M cap hit expires after 2019-20.

The Penguins managed a pretty nice value in signing Murray right after he surprisingly helped the Penguins win the 2015-16 Stanley Cup. Murray almost certainly would have cost the Penguins quite a bit more if they signed him during the summer of 2017 (when his entry-level contract expired), rather than that proactive extension.

Yet, it’s true that it’s kind of difficult to gauge how much Murray should cost heading into 2020-21.

After putting up absolutely splendid numbers during the regular season and playoffs while the Penguins repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 2015-16 and 2016-17, it’s been up-and-down for Murray. Murray sandwiched a strong 2018-19 regular season between tough seasons in 2017-18 and 2019-20.

To complicate matters further, Murray hasn’t really been able to prove that he’s a true workhorse. Injuries, in particular, have limited Murray’s volume.

So, on one hand, Murray has two Stanley Cup rings. There have also been plenty of stretches of impressive play. Unfortunately, Murray struggled more often than not during most of his recent stretches, though. It’s interesting to note that Rutherford told Yohe that, while the would-be starter is a Mike Sullivan decision, Rutherford did guess that Murray was the likely playoff starter if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happened.

With all of that in mind, what kind of contract would be right for Murray? Frankly, I have no clue.

Tristan Jarry

Many would argue that Jarry ranks as the better starting option if the playoffs happen, and with good reason. The 25-year-old performed far better than Murray by just about every measure. While Murray struggled with weak backup-level numbers (.899 save percentage, -11.6 GSAA), Jarry put up stats that hovered around elite (.921 save percentage, 11.07 GSAA).

On the other hand, while Murray boasts two rings and 199 games of regular-season experience, Jarry’s only played 62 at the NHL level. Jarry didn’t enjoy a whole lot of success before his dominant run of 33 games in 2019-20, either.

The Penguins may ponder an interesting risk. Do you go with Murray, who has struggled mightily and likely will cost quite a bit, yet is also experienced? Or do you lean toward Jarry, another pending RFA who’s headed for a raise from $675K, but should be cheaper than Murray?

Could it even come down to which goalie fetches the best return in a hypothetical trade for their rights?

Tough calls all around.

Casey DeSmith

DeSmith, 28, just endured some surprises.

  • I was a little surprised DeSmith was unable to secure at least a backup job. Obviously, the Penguins were right in choosing Jarry, but it was still jarring. After all, DeSmith managed a sturdy .917 save percentage over 50 games played for the Penguins between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Frankly, his contract extension ($1.25M AAV through 2021-22) looked like a steal at the time.
  • Instead, the Penguins demoted DeSmith, which carried another surprise: no other NHL team snatched him up. Yes, it’s difficult to find room during the waiver period right before a season starts, but DeSmith’s cheap contract and track record made him intriguing.

The 2019-20 season ended up being pretty rocky for DeSmith. He only managed a mediocre 18-18-2 record and equally mediocre .905 save percentage in the AHL.

Such stretches make it tougher to sell the idea of the Penguins getting much for DeSmith in a potential trade. During 2019-20, burying his cap hit in the minors cost the Penguins $175K. It seems unlikely that will happen again going forward, but who knows?

Tough calls for Penguins with goalies

My guess is that the Penguins will go with DeSmith as a backup to either Murray or Jarry. It’s tough to gauge the wisest course. Jarry could be cheaper, and may very well continue to provide superior play. Then again, the stakes are high for the Penguins, so if they’re wrong, it could wreck one of the precious remaining seasons they have as contenders. Would it be better to hope Murray can stay consistent and healthy, even at a higher rate, then?

There’s also an outside-the-box solution, such as dipping into the pool of free agent goalies.

It’s easy to see why Rutherford describes tough decisions. That said, there are multiple goalies who could work out for the Penguins, which is not an argument every NHL contender can make.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins’ DeSmith misses NHL call-up after losing passport

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MONTREAL — Pittsburgh Penguins minor league goalie Casey DeSmith missed a chance to join the NHL team in Montreal on Saturday because he lost his passport.

The Penguins wanted to promote DeSmith from the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens while they let Tristan Jarry rest at home before hosting Florida on Sunday. Pittsburgh called on DeSmith, who has played 50 games for Pittsburgh over the past two seasons, but the 28-year-old couldn’t find the paperwork to travel internationally.

Pittsburgh recalled goalie Emil Larmi from Wheeling of the ECHL instead to serve as Matt Murray‘s backup.

Larmi is a 23-year-old from Finland who is in his first season in North America. He is 3-1-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average in four games for Wheeling. He was also 1-2-2 in five games for Scranton. Larmi has not appeared in an NHL game.

Ho-Sang, DeSmith, Sprong headline waiver wire

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Monday was a busy day on the NHL’s waiver wire as the league’s 31 teams work to fill out their opening night rosters and get salary cap compliant before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline.

There were some notable names to hit the waiver wire, including New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, Anaheim Ducks forward Daniel Sprong, and Washington Capitals defender Christian Djoos.

A lot of these players, even the bigger names, will ultimately clear waivers as teams do not want to add another contract to their roster without subtracting another one. Because of that, it opens the door for many of these players to be traded once — or if — they do clear.

Ho-Sang is probably the most notable player on the list simply because he still has so much potential and is such an intriguing talent. It has not worked for him in New York, but that does not mean it can’t or won’t someplace else.

The Penguins’ decision to put DeSmith on waivers means they are going to start the season with Tristan Jarry as the top backup to Matt Murray, a move that is largely (if not entirely) based on salary cap savings. DeSmith is starting a three-year contract that pays him over $1.5 million per season, while Jarry is still on his entry-level deal.

Sprong is a big talent but has yet to to take advantage of any of his opportunities in Pittsburgh or Anaheim, but he is young enough and skilled enough that you have to think someone else tries to see if they can help him reach his potential.

Here is the complete list:

Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks
Sam Carrick, Anaheim Ducks
Peter Cehlarik, Boston Bruins
Casey Nelson, Buffalo Sabres
Curtis Lazar, Buffalo Sabres
Scott Wilson, Buffalo Sabres
Remi Elie, Buffalo Sabres
Alan Quine, Calgary Flames
Anton Forsberg, Carolina Hurricanes
Gustav Forsling, Carolina Hurricanes
Clark Bishop, Carolina Hurricanes
Carl Dahlstrom, Chicago Blackhawks
Marko Dano, Columbus Blue Jackets
Brandon Manning, Edmonton Oilers
Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers
J.T. Brown, Minnesota Wild
Steven Santini, Nashville Predators
Miikka Salomaki, Nashville Predators
Matt Tennyson, New Jersey Devils
Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders
Thomas Hickey, New York Islanders
Tanner Fritz, New York Islanders
Cristoval Nieves, New York Rangers
Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins
Luke Schenn, Tampa Bay Lightning
Kevin Gravel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Garrett Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nicolas Petan, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kenneth Agostino, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nicolay Goldobin, Vancouver Canucks
Alex Biega, Vancouver Canucks
Sven Baertschi, Vancouver Canucks
Nelson Nogier, Winnipeg Jets
JC Lipon, Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets
Christian Djoos, Washington Capitals
Michael Sgarbossa, Washington Capitals
Liam O’Brien, Washington Capitals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Copley latest young, promising goalie to sign team-friendly deal

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It’s been a subtle but important trend in the NHL over the last year — highly-rated, young backup goalies signing very team-friendly deals on clubs that are (or will be) up against the salary cap.

The latest came on Monday when Washington Capitals backup Pheonix Copley inked a new three-year pact with the club to the tune of $1.1 million annual average value.

He became another promising netminder that a team signed a ‘smart deal’ in recent months.

Here’s the list:

Copley has proved he is on the right track as a full-time NHL backup this season. His .903 save percentage in all situations isn’t pretty, sure. But consider his five-on-five is sitting at .921, a very respectable number on a team that leads the league in minor penalties taken this season and has taken a nosedive as of late.

DeSmith, by comparison, is a .925 and Saros is just behind and a .924 in 5v5 situations. All three are in the Top 30 among goalies in goals saved above average, too, with each of them on the positive side of that category.

All three are backups with good-to-great upside and are signed to deals that aren’t forcing the team to choose between them and another roster player.

Copley and Saros project to be future signings, with Saros is the heir to Pekka Rinne’s’ throne and Copley the competent backup behind Ilya Samsonov if the Capitals decide to move from Braden Holtby after next season, or an asset down the line if Holtby re-ups. DeSmith is an excellent insurance policy for the oft-injured Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, having already proved his worth in that role this season.

You can throw another guy like Minnesota Wild puck-stopper Alex Stalock into this mix, too, after he signed late last month.

It’s a trend that could catch on elsewhere, as well.

The Winnipeg Jets would likely love to sign Laurent Brossoit to similar terms, for example. He’s having a stellar season in Winnipeg after escaping from Edmonton.

Los Angeles has decisions to make with Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen, both who have shown promise this season filling in for Jonathan Quick.

And then there’s the not-so-distant aspect of this: they represent expansion draft protection, allowing these teams to expose the mandatory one goalie without having to expose the team’s No. 1 (Saros will be the exception here).

The risk with these deals is low. We’ve already seen high-risk this year, with the Oilers shelling out $13.5 million for Mikko Koskinen, who has similar numbers to Copley but is three years his senior. It’s the above contracts that make that Koskinen extension so perplexing.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penguins sign goalie DeSmith to cheap, smart extension

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are guilty of their fair share of salary cap snafus (screams in horror at Jack Johnson‘s contract), but they’re among the NHL’s sharpest when it comes to handling their goalies.

Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been absolutely outstanding in Vegas, but there are many teams that saddle themselves with problem contracts.

Instead, the Penguins have found ways to carve out impressive flexibility at the position by being proactive.

While Matt Murray‘s struggled with injuries and the occasional bout of inconsistency, he’s only carrying a $3.75M cap hit through 2019-20, and Pittsburgh locked him up after his brilliant work in their 2015-16 championship run.

Now they’ve managed to land some cost certainty with Casey DeSmith, as the team announced a three-year extension that will carry a paltry $1.25M cap hit beginning next season.

“Since joining the Penguins’ organization, Casey has excelled for us at every level, first in Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and now here in Pittsburgh,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “We’re pleased to have him signed with our organization for the next three-and-a-half seasons.”

Rutherford isn’t wrong there.

Obviously, Smith’s NHL numbers jump out at you first. The 27-year-old is 12-7-4 with a splendid .924 save percentage this season, and he also has a .923 save percentage over 40 career NHL games. Sean Tierney’s visualization of Corsica’s Goals Saved Against Average numbers show that DeSmith’s been one of the more valuable netminders so far in 2018-19:

Now, sure, it’s likely that DeSmith will cool off from here, but the Penguins aren’t really making that large of an investment in him. This decision compares nicely to the Predators locking down Juuse Saros for three years at $1.5M a pop (Saros has the better pedigree; DeSmith’s having the better 2018-19).

And, as Rutherford mentioned, DeSmith’s had success at other levels.

Check his AHL and NCAA numbers and you’ll see that DeSmith’s enjoyed success in most other seasons. That might not sounds like much, but compare his work at other levels to, say, Scott Darling, who faced a bumpy road through the ECHL and other leagues before things took off for him starting in 2013-14.

It’s not that difficult to picture a scenario where DeSmith got a much richer deal if he waited, particularly if he was the guy who helped Pittsburgh make a big run.

Instead, the Penguins went low-risk, with some enticing potential rewards.

The best-case scenario is that DeSmith ends up being a legitimate difference-maker who can sport something close to a .920 save percentage at that bargain-basement price. The worst? Maybe DeSmith flops and the Penguins have to buy him out or bury his contract in the AHL, while possibly stunting the growth of Tristan Jarry and others.

Cutting in between, it’s quite possible that DeSmith could be a useful backup who might be able to provide relief if Murray struggles or gets hurt.

***

Looking at the Penguins’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, there are a lot of players above the age of 30 who are receiving a lot of money and sometimes-scary term. There are risks of the Penguins slipping into a Kings-like lull if too many players hit the wall.

Still, Murray and DeSmith will carry just a $5M cap hit next season, compared to $6M per year for 32-year-old Jonathan Quick.

Sure, it’s easier to herd cats than predict which goalies will excel in a given year, but all things considered, this is some masterful work by the Penguins.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.