The biggest question surrounding Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry has now become: When is he going to be allowed to answer the biggest question?
Yeah. One of those quizzes, inside an enigma, wrapped in a riddle type of things.
I mean, he’s twice proven that he’s an above-average regular-season goaltender, twice backstopping his team to the playoffs while earning an Eastern Conference All-Star nod along the way.
But neither of those seasons have ended with Penguins fans or management confidently saying, “Jarry is a really good playoff goalie, too.”
Once because, well, he wasn’t. Not even close. That was in 2021 after his season careened into a wall during a first-round playoff series loss to the New York Islanders.
The other time he was injured. That was this spring when Jarry only got to play one contest against the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. A game the Penguins lost 4-3 in overtime at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers.
Not a very fair litmus test of postseason progress after the disaster of 2021.
Compounding matters for the Penguins is that Jarry is going into his last year of a $3.5 million contract. The club can extend him early if he wants. And if he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.
Does either side know if it wants the marriage to continue, though? Do the Penguins want to tie themselves to Jarry as their goalie of the present — and the future — before they even know if they truly trust him in a playoff situation?
And does Jarry want to tether himself to an organization that may not trust him beyond his first bad playoff game?
The first thing to be decided is if the Penguins are earnestly rebuilding around the final three years of Sidney Crosby’s contract. Or is the organization going to keep Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in free agency this offseason and perhaps through 2025 with Crosby before a real blowup.
If general manager Ron Hextall and president Brian Burke choose to take the second route, they shouldn’t make a move on Jarry until after this year ends. Depending on what kind of production they get from Malkin and Letang on their new deals, they shouldn’t want any extra dollars committed into the future.
But if the front office goes with more of a rebuilding angle, I wouldn’t be surprised if it tries to work out an extension with Jarry for another few years beyond the end of 2023. Perhaps in the mold of Bryan Rust’s deal, get him at a discounted rate before free agency bidding begins. Meanwhile, Jarry receives the security of not having to test the market coming off a bad playoff if that Islanders bugaboo resurfaces.
Or entering free agency after a year playing behind a rebuilding team that may not be good enough to get there, depending on how long the reconstruction takes.
From a team perspective, I can’t help but see the Colorado Avalanche and think of Jarry a little bit.
The Avalanche won the Western Conference with the combination of Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz between the pipes. They are about to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and they still appear to be figuring out which one is better.
Or, maybe better said, worse.
I think Jarry is better than both of them. He is five years younger (27) than both of those guys (32). His 2021-22 regular season goals against average (2.42) was better than both of their marks (2.54 for Kuemper, 2.55 for Francouz). His save percentage (.919) was between Kuemper’s (.921) and Francouz’s (.916).
Kuemper was the primary starter in Denver, amassing 37 wins for the best team in the West (119 points). Jarry had 34 wins for a club with the seventh-highest point total in the East (103 points).
Neither Colorado goalie is putting up numbers as good as their regular-season pace in the playoffs. Yet the Avs are two wins away from the Stanley Cup.
The point being, many wonder, “Can the Penguins win a Stanley Cup with Tristan Jarry in the net?”
My response is, “If the Avs can win at least 14 playoff games with Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz in goal, then yes.”
Now the Penguins merely have to build themselves a team like the Avalanche have.
That’s all. Simple, right?
Of course, it isn’t. But that task would be easier to begin if the club frees up whatever Malkin and Letang would cost against the salary cap for the next three years. That total was $16.7 million in 2021-22.
Honestly, as we get further away from the summer of 2017, some people may ask, “How did the Penguins ever win two Cups with Matt Murray? Whatever happened to that guy?”
Maybe because the Pens of five and six years ago were what the 2022 Avs are now.
I bet Jarry can be good enough for the Penguins if they make themselves better.
Keeping Letang and Malkin isn’t an attempt at getting better. It’s a prayer that the team stays just as good. However, that hasn’t been good enough to get out of the first round of the playoffs the last four seasons.
And only one of those results can be put on Jarry’s back.
In Wednesday’s hockey podcast, Tim Benz and Pens Radio Network host Brian Metzer discuss the looming Penguins offseason decisions, the Stanley Cup Final and the hiring of John Tortorella in Philadelphia.
Listen: Tim Benz and Brian Metzer talk Penguins offseason and the Stanley Cup Final
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.