The Pittsburgh Penguins have their final restricted free agent wrapped up. The team has announced a two-year contract extension with backup goalie Tristan Jarry that carries a cap hit of only $675K: a $650K salary in 2018-19 and a $700K salary in 2019-20. On top of a friendly salary, the deal is also of a two-way nature this season before transitioning to a one-way contract next year.
It is unlikely that Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford could have done any better with this contract. The Penguins are perhaps in worse shape going up against the salary cap ceiling next season than any other team in the league. Pittsburgh currently has all but $1MM of their available cap space committed to a projected 23-man roster than looks unlikely to change much. The team already had to make a salary cap dump earlier this off-season, trading capable winger Conor Sheary to the Buffalo Sabres in order to also offload underacheiving defenseman Matt Hunwick. There have been some questioning how the team could re-sign one of the most well-regarded goalie prospects in the pros and not have to make another similar move. Yet somehow Rutherford was able to convince Jarry to sign a) for close to a minimum salary, b) for multiple years, and c) on a two-way deal in the upcoming year. For a 23-year-old former second round pick who has incredible AHL numbers and had a solid first NHL season in 2017-18 behind an injury-prone starter, that seemed impossible. If Jarry again appears in 26 or so games and posts a .908 save percentage and 2.77 GAA or better in either of the next two years, this contract will be an amazing value for the Penguins.
The Penguins may still not be off the hook, however. Jarry’s two-way contract and waiver exemption will make it easy for the Penguins to move him up and down through the organization to relieve starter Matt Murray and slated backup Casey DeSmith when necessary – and recent history has shown that Murray is likely to miss time at some point. Yet, call-up’s for Jarry, as well as players like Zach Aston-Reese, Jimmy Hayes, and Zach Trotman, will eat away at what little cap space the Penguins have. It may be possible for them to get through the season as currently structured, but if Rutherford wants some more flexibility to maneuver his roster, don’t be surprised if another cap-relieving trade is still completed at some point. Until then though, Rutherford deserves some credit for locking up all of his restricted free agents and putting together a well-rounded roster given his uncomfortable cap scenario.