Penguins' situation at the goaltender spot is appearing bleak
The Penguins are in an uncomfortable spot at the NHL's most important position.
Marc-Andre Fleury — the franchise goalie who was benched because of ineffectiveness in the Stanley Cup playoffs and is coming off management's mandated sessions with a sports psychologist — suddenly is the franchise's lone proven goalie.
Tomas Vokoun, star of the Penguins' playoff run, is out indefinitely after surgery Saturday to dissolve a blood clot.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday he did not expect to have much of an update on Vokoun for “the next few days.” Bylsma also acknowledged that Vokoun's injury had changed the goaltending situation.
“If the backup goalie is Jeff Zatkoff, it would be different how many games Marc would play in, which games and in terms of how we schedule,” Bylsma said.
Zatkoff, 26, spent last season as the starter for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but he has never played in the NHL.
The Penguins have 13 games in October, none on back-to-back nights. Five, including the Oct. 3 home opener against New Jersey, feature division opponents. Eight are at home.
Fleury, coming off his fourth consecutive postseason with a sub-.900 save percentage, has registered a .829 save percentage over five periods in two exhibition games.
Bylsma described Fleury as “OK” to this point in training camp. He added that Fleury's performance was consistent with previous camps, which led into four seasons over which Fleury paced all goalies in victories.
“It's training camp,” Bylsma said. “There's a process for every player getting into game shape and going through practice.”
Bylsma has seen Zatkoff only in practice, so any confidence in his for-now No. 2 goalie stems from insight provided by goaltender coach Mike Bales, who worked with Zatkoff with the Baby Pens last season. Zatkoff is a veteran of 200 professional games, but his lack of NHL experience is the reason for rumors that general manager Ray Shero is seeking a veteran goalie in Vokoun's absence.
Identifying capable candidates will prove less challenging than getting one onto the roster while also making the Penguins salary-cap compliant by next Monday, when regular-season rosters must be set.
The Penguins' plan was to reassign defenseman Simon Despres to AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His cap hit ($840,000) would have just about made the team cap compliant, and because he is on an entry-level contract, Despres need not clear waivers to play in the AHL.
To add a goalie — even one at Zatkoff's cap hit ($537,500) — the Penguins still would need to shave cap space. Vokoun is not eligible for a long-term injury designation, which would remove his $2 million salary from the cap during his time missed, until he is out for 10 games.
Including Vokoun, the Penguins have 21 players in camp on NHL contracts who are prohibited from cap exclusion even if a player were to clear waivers for an AHL reassignment. NHL rosters are capped at 23, and one of two remaining slots will go to winger Beau Bennett.
A trade, which management had deemed unnecessary to reach cap compliance, is more likely option.
That is especially true if the added goalie is more expensive than Zatkoff, who also must clear waivers to play for the Penguins in a regular-season game.
To bring in, say, Johan Hedberg (recently cut by the Rangers), the Penguins could absorb a percentage of a traded player's salary.
As part of the labor contract between the NHL and the Players' Association, a club can retain three contracts and up to 15 percent of those contracts' cap space ($9.6 million for this season).
The Penguins on Sunday trimmed their camp roster to 35 players. Three are goalies, but one is injured and another has no NHL experience.
Fleury, whom a year ago the Penguins believed needed a lighter workload to avoid burnout, is a Flower that cannot wilt.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Sutter, Downie, Greiss being tested for mumps, out tonight
- Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches’ firings
- Downie, Farnham bringing a much-needed edge to the Penguins
- Minor league report: Other prospects on Penguins’ radar
- Penguins defenseman Letang having best season in new system
- Penguins star Crosby talks about his experience with mumps
- Penguins notebook: Memorable night for Pouliot, Trocheck