It isn’t up for debate. The Pittsburgh Penguins were good in a lot of ways during the 2017 postseason, but their strength came in net with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.
If not for the expansion draft, the Penguins would be facing a difficult decision this summer — trade Fleury to open more cap space room for other players or retain him to keep Pittsburgh’s 1-2 punch between the pipes.
Of course, the Penguins don’t have that choice, as Fleury will be exposed in the expansion draft where the Vegas Golden Knights will likely select him. Should that happen, the only other goaltender on Pittsburgh’s roster besides Murray would be 22-year-old Tristian Jarry, who only has one NHL start.
In all likelihood, the Penguins will be in the market for a backup goaltender to at least compete with Jarry in training camp. Here are three veterans they could target in free agency:
The most important trait Pittsburgh will look for in a veteran backup is the ability to come in and play well if Murray sustains an injury. Murray suffered three ailments — a broken hand and two lower-body injuries, one of which was a hamstring tear — this past season. As great as the two-time champion is, durability is definitely a concern.
Budaj proved to be very effective for the Los Angeles Kings when Jonathan Quick went down this past season. While Quick was injured, Budaj went 27-20-2 with a .916 save percentage and seven shutouts. He wasn’t spectacular, but he kept the Kings in games, and thus in the playoff race, until the trade deadline when he was dealt to Tampa Bay.
The 34-year-old would also cost very little. Even if he gets a raise for his efforts last year, Budaj signed just a one-year, $600,000 deal last summer. Pittsburgh could offer him another one-year contract and hope Jarry is ready to be the team’s backup in 2018.
He’s another former Kings goaltender, but most will probably remember Bernier from his below-average play with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In three years with Toronto, he went 59-68-17 with a .915 save percentage and 2.80 GAA. The Maple Leafs shipped him as part of a package, which included Pittsburgh’s first-round pick from the Phil Kessel trade, to Anaheim for Frederik Anderson last summer.
With a stronger Ducks defense in front of him, Bernier went 21-7-4 with a .915 save percentage and 2.50 GAA this past season. He couldn’t save Anaheim in the Western Conference Final, but he still had a strong season overall.
At the right price, Bernier, 28, would be another good choice to back up Murray for a year or two.
Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and even Kessel — the Penguins’ 2017 championship roster was full of retreads. So why couldn’t Pittsburgh retread one of its own treads?
Yes, Condon had a cup of coffee with the Penguins, making seven saves over one period during his only game in a Pittsburgh uniform. Interestingly, that lone appearance came in mop-up duty at Nashville.
After Murray recovered from his broken hand, the Penguins placed Condon on waivers, and the Ottawa Senators claimed him. For Ottawa, he went 19-14-6 with a .914 save percentage and 2.50 GAA.
Just like Budaj and Bernier, Condon has starter experience. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, and his NHL career, Condon went 6-0-2 with a .936 save percentage starting in place of the injured Carey Price. However, it went downhill from that point as he finished the season with a .903 save percentage.
Still, at 27, Condon is younger than either Budaj or Bernier, and he already knows the organization. If Pittsburgh is outbid for both the first two goaltenders, Condon is a fine consolation prize.