Uncertainty over the timetable for Tomas Vokoun's return and concern over Marc-Andre Fleury's performance is fuelling speculation the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the market for an experienced goaltender.
Vokoun recently underwent surgery to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis. He's been released from hospital and cleared to begin light workouts this week, but will start the season on injured reserve. It's unknown when he'll return to action.
A Czech report claimed Vokoun's condition could force the 37-year-old netminder out of hockey, but agent Allan Walsh denied his client was pondering retirement.
Fleury struggled over the past two seasons, especially in the playoffs, losing his starter's job to Vokoun during last spring's post-season.
Despite consulting a sports psychologist over the summer, Fleury's woes carried over into pre-season, sporting a 3.64 GAA and .829 save percentage in early action. He did, however, look sharp in his final pre-season tilt, turning aside 16 of 17 shots in a 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Shortly after Vokoun was sidelined, GM Ray Shero said Fleury would have to carry the load “for the foreseeable future,” stressing the 28-year-old would have to step up his play.
Fleury's done it before, backstopping the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances and a championship in 2009. His recent decline remains a troubling issue entering this season.
Compounding the Penguins goalie woes is the inexperience of third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff, who has plenty of minor league experience but none at the NHL level.
Little wonder there's been rumors of the Penguins shopping around for help between the pipes
It was reported last week they contacted free agent Jose Theodore but were awaiting clarification on Vokoun's recovery before continuing discussions.
A report this past Sunday claimed they had interest in former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, whose inconsistency over the last two seasons forced the Flyers to buy out the remainder of his contract this summer.
Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review doesn't expect the Penguins to sign Bryzaglov, claiming he hadn't heard anything suggesting they would. He later cited “a very reliable source” dismissing the speculation.
If the Penguins were to pursue Bryzgalov or another free agent goaltender, their limited cap space provides little room to take on additional salary.
They were forced to demote forward Beau Bennett to the ECHL as a “paper transaction” to become cap compliant to open the season, and demoted defenseman Simon Despres to their AHL affiliate.
Another option is a trade but they would have to either ensure it's a “dollar-for-dollar” swap or take back less salary in the deal. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the trade market for goaltenders is currently stagnant.
If Vokoun should return later this month, the Penguins won't add another goalie. If he's out indefinitely and the Fleury-Zatkoff tandem struggles, Shero will have little choice but to seek help.