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Goaltending a Big Storyline for Penguins at NHL Draft

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The goaltending position turned out to be a big storyline for the Penguins on Day 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft. To sum it up:

- The Penguins traded Matt Murray to Ottawa in exchange for forward prospect Jonathan Gruden and a 2020 second-round pick (52nd overall)

- The Penguins then used their two highest draft picks to take netminders, selecting Finn Joel Blomqvist with that second-round pick and Swede Calle Clang with their third-round pick

- At the end of the night, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford confirmed he is comfortable starting the season with Tristan Jarry - who signed a contract extension with the team on Saturday - and Casey DeSmith as his goalie tandem

Video: Patrik Allvin 10/7 media Availability

Let's start with Murray. 

Heading into today, Rutherford had said publicly it would be difficult to keep both Murray and Jarry under the current salary cap, as both of them were set to become restricted free agents. 

What complicated the situation is that NHL clubs were originally told that the salary cap would be around $86-87 million, then that number moved down to around $84 million … and then the pandemic began. 

The NHL and the NHLPA ultimately agreed to a four-year extension to the CBA back in July that will keep the salary cap at a flat $81.5 for next season, which put a wrench in the Penguins' plans.

"Certainly with the new CBA that we have now and the lower cap, we get forced to do things that we didn't think that maybe we had to," Rutherford said. 

In a perfect world, the Penguins would have kept both goalies. But with the direction that Murray's salary was going in as a 26-year-old with two Stanley Cup rings, it became impossible. 

So on Saturday the Penguins signed Jarry, coming off of an All-Star season, to a three-year extension with an average annual value of $3.5 million on Saturday - knowing all along that trading Murray was really the only option.

"This was a long process trying to get the goalie situation cleared up," Rutherford said. "It was getting to a point where I wondered if we would have to go through the whole process of arbitration and everything, and that we may have to walk away from arbitration and not get anything in return for Matt, which would have been unfortunate."

But despite there being a flooded goalie market, Rutherford was able to procure a pick and a prospect for Murray. It was difficult to say goodbye after everything Murray had done for the Penguins in his five seasons with the organization since they took him in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. 

"There's not a player that I don't trade or let go that doesn't bother me personally," Rutherford said. "Especially these guys that gave so much to win the Stanley Cup. (Patric) Hornqvist, (Marc-Andre) Fleury before that, now Matt Murray. This is hard, but we don't have a choice. It's part of our system."

With Murray's departure, Rutherford said he would feel comfortable heading into the 2020-21 season with Jarry and Casey DeSmith as his tandem if that's what it comes to.

Jarry's All-Star season has been well-documented, while DeSmith played the entire season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Prior to that, however, the 29-year-old had set NHL career highs in games played (36), wins (15) and shutouts (3) with Pittsburgh in 2018-19. DeSmith handled most of the goaltending duties over the first three-plus months of the season as Murray missed significant time due to various injuries.

"I'm comfortable with both of them," Rutherford said. "I mean, we're going to have to get more depth, maybe a third goalie to keep an eye on. But it's like everything else we do - we're always looking to see what's out there and potentially how we can improve all parts of our team. But if we were starting the season tonight, I'd be fine with those two goalies."

Rutherford acknowledged that it's quite the luxury to have an NHL goalie tandem essentially ready to go after trading the player who had been the starter for the past few seasons. It's a testament to their goalie pipeline, which was replenished today at the draft.

"We've been fortunate because you can't win without a goalie," Rutherford said. "And we've been fortunate our goalie development people - Andy Chiodo and Mike Buckley and these guys - are on top of who the goalies are, and they do a good job in their recommendations. 

"And to the point of what we did today, we ended up taking two top goalies in our minds in Blomqvist and Clang. You just can never seem to have enough. You got to keep developing them, and certainly that's a system we have."

When asked if plan was to restock the goalie depth or if they were simply the best players available at the time, Penguins director of amateur scouting Patrik Allvin said it was "a little bit of both."

"I think they were both intriguing players," Allvin said. "Just ended up turning out that both were available there, Blomqvist in the second round and Clang in the third. We talked about it, we felt that both guys are very intriguing moving forward. It just turned out great that way."

Allvin acknowledged that they'll both need some time to develop, but that both of them are in good situations over in Europe - Blomqvist in Finland and Clang in Sweden - and the Penguins are excited about their future potential.

"We talked about it, but with how the draft was shaking out, we felt really strong about those two players," Allvin said. "And to get both of them in our system, we were really excited."

When it comes to other moves that Rutherford might make to improve the Penguins in the present with free agency opening at noon on Friday, he said it will be a wait-and-see approach.

"We don't have a lot of cap space, not a lot of teams do," said Rutherford, who also confirmed that they will not be able to re-sign another two-time Stanley Cup champion in defenseman Justin Schultz. "But we'll have to see where guys fall and where their salaries fall, too, to see who we can fit. 

"But there were a bunch of guys not qualified today, which everybody in the league expected, and there will be a lot of conversation about those guys. We won't be in on the big free agents on Friday, but we will be looking at adding more players."

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