Welcome to the latest edition of the THN Hot Seat, a continuing series of THN.com columns in which we focus on one member of each NHL team who’ll be facing a great deal of pressure in the 2022-23 season. The Hot Seat nominee could be an NHL player, head coach, team owner, or GM. Today, we’re examining the Pittsburgh Penguins.
PENGUINS HOT SEAT: TRISTAN JARRY, GOALTENDER
WHY: There’s no question the 27-year-old Jarry has been one of the better regular-season goalies in the past few regular seasons, but when it comes to the playoffs, his success hasn't been duplicated. Two years ago, Jarry had a momentous meltdown, posting a gnarly .888 Save Percentage and a 3.18 Goals-Against Average. And last year, due to a lower-body injury he suffered in mid-April, Jarry appeared in just one post-season game for the Pens – and again, his individual numbers (3.69 G.A.A., .867 SP) were nothing to take pride in.
However, Penguins GM Ron Hextall has reaffirmed his faith in Jarry for this coming season. That should be expected from a former NHL goaltender who knows the pressures of the Pennsylvania market too well. But if you’re looking at Pittsburgh’s goalie situation through an unbiased lens, you can see how Jarry’s tenure with the Pens could be at an end this time next summer.
For one thing, there’s the fact Jarry is in the final season of his current contract, one which carries an average annual value of $3.5 million. If he does make it to the open market, there will be more than a few teams lining up to give him a significant raise – that is, if he continues to perform above-average for most of the season. However, if he struggles again with his health, and fails to improve his playoff statistics, Hextall and the Penguins may begin looking in a new direction between the pipes. Backup Casey DeSmith was re-signed to a contract extension this summer, but he’s 31 years old and has played a combined 46 games the past two seasons. He’s not the long-term answer in Pittsburgh’s net.
Jarry does have a new-look defense corps in front of him in 2022-23, with veteran Mike Marino dealt to New Jersey, and veterans Jeff Petry and former Lightning blueliner Jan Rutta brought in to give the Pens more experience. That said, both Rutta and Petry are in their thirties, and neither of them are the type of defensive-crackdown competitor that can directly affect Jarry’s performance.
All of this means that Jarry will, once again, have to carry the bulk of the load for Pittsburgh this year. He played a career-high 58 regular-season games last season, and he will probably have to make that many appearances again this year. If he thrives, a contract extension that easily will double his salary will be a certainty. If he can’t stay healthy for the playoffs, and/or doesn’t come through with a big post-season showing, Hextall has a very difficult decision ahead of him.
Indeed, the Penguins need their veteran-laden roster to remain healthy, and the return of veterans Evgeni Malkin, Rickard Rakell and Kris Letang (all of whom could’ve left via unrestricted free agency) gives Pittsburgh enough firepower on offense to ensure it will be battling for a playoff spot once again next spring. But, as most NHL teams go, goaltending will be central to the Pens’ number of wins. And that all comes back to Jarry. He’s had a frustrating couple seasons, and the Penguins can’t afford for him to have another one this time around.