The Pittsburgh Penguins have a goaltending issue and it’s time for general manager Ron Hextall to make some adjustments ahead of the March 3 trade deadline. Number one netminder Tristan Jarry has once again gone down with injury and he’s not expected back for a couple of weeks. The Penguins are in the thick of a playoff race and have turned to Casey DeSmith and Dustin Tokarski to secure two points night in and night out.
Frankly, that’s not going to cut it as the Penguins biggest weakness is their goaltending depth. Hextall needs to be aggressive on the trade market and not limit himself to just finding another backup to Jarry. If there’s a significant trade to totally shake things up, why not consider it?
The goaltender market isn’t necessarily saturated ahead of the trade deadline but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a deal to be made. Here’s two trade candidates the Penguins should consider ahead of deadline day:
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
Vejmelka is a very intriguing candidate as he’s on one of the best contracts in all of the NHL. The southpaw netminder is signed through the 2024-25 season, making just $2.7 million against the cap. He does not hold any trade protection and could be moved at will.
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The Coyotes are going to want a haul for their starting goalie, however the significant asking price shouldn’t scare away Hextall and the Penguins. This wouldn’t be trading for a rental, this is a scenario where you bring in a top-10 NHL goaltender who has shown the ability to steal games on one of the worst teams in the league. He’s signed for two more seasons at a very low cap hit and it would still give the Penguins a chance to sign Jarry to a contract extension should they choose.
Hextall should consider loading up a ‘futures’ trade offer which in a dream scenario includes offloading Casey DeSmith and Kasperi Kapanen in the process. The Coyotes are willing to take on bad contracts if it means the pot is sweetened and the Pens should take advantage. The other pieces would likely need to be a first-round pick in 2023 and two top prospects, but for a win now team, that really shouldn’t matter at this point. Ensuring your goaltending depth is sorted so there isn’t another debacle come Stanley Cup Playoff time is what should be front of mind.
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
If you have followed my coverage of the Penguins you’d know Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks is someone I’ve had circled for quite some time. Earlier this week, Rick Dhaliwal on the Donnie and Dhali show mentioned teams are calling the Canucks about Demko and suggested the Penguins could be one of the teams interested.
Demko is currently on the shelve nursing a lower-body injury and is expected back in roughly three weeks. Yes, there’s a touch of risk but this injury is likely related to the fact he’s played a ton of hockey these past couple of years and should have his workload lightened a touch. In 2021-22 Demko appeared in 64 games, to compare, Jarry appeared in 58 and his previous high was 39 games.
Demko has proved he’s capable of stealing games and being a reliable backstop with his .915 save percentage from 2020-22. The 6-foot-4 goalie is signed for $5 million per season through the 2025-26 season and with the fact the Canucks are trying to create more salary cap flexibility moving forward, this could be a great match for Hextall in Pittsburgh.
Could the Penguins pull this off and keep Jarry from being involved? Likely not, and with Jarry being from the Vancouver area there could be some interest from the Canucks end of things. Their management group of Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin is uber-familiar with Jarry’s game so the jury is still out if they’d want to ensure he was included.
Hextall Needs to Make a Move This Season
There’s certainly potential the Penguins complete a blockbuster trade ahead of the deadline and Vancouver and Arizona are two teams to circle as intriguing partners. The Canucks know the Penguins well, and with Hextall having over $19 million in cap space to work with next summer it means he could take on a player or two with term left on their deal. There’s no chance the Penguins GM makes a significant trade which includes top draft picks or prospects for a rental player who could walk at season’s end. This is why I feel the Penguins need to think long and hard about their goaltender situation and if Vejmelka or Demko could be their short-term and long-term solution. Of the two, Vejmelka to me, would make the most sense.