- Ryan S. Clark is an NHL reporter for ESPN.
The Pittsburgh Penguins made it known Saturday that goal prevention was a priority having re-signed goaltender Tristan Jarry and then adding defenseman Ryan Graves.
Jarry signed a five-year extension carrying a $5.375 million cap hit while Graves, who spent last season with the New Jersey Devils, signed a six-year deal with the Penguins that’s worth $4.5 million annually.
Returning Jarry back to the nets, while adding Graves comes were the latest developments in what has become an aggressive offseason for the Penguins. It started with the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 16 years as they were a point out of the final wild-card spot that was captured by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers.
Getting eliminated was further compounded by the fact that franchise cornerstones Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are all older than 35.
It led to the Penguins firing president of hockey operations Brian Burke, general manager Ron Hextall and assistant general manager Chris Pyror in April. In June, the Penguins hired former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to serve as the president of hockey operations and the interim GM.
Dubas and his front office staff have been active. They took advantage of their cap space by offering the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights financial flexibility in a trade that saw them get Reilly Smith in return.
Getting Smith ultimately signaled they would be in a position to move on from Jason Zucker, who signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes.
CapFriendly projected that Smith’s arrival meant the Penguins had a little more than $15 million in space which they then used to bring back Jarry while further addressing their defensive needs by signing Graves.
Jarry was in the final year of a three-deal deal that saw him earn $3.5 million annually. The 28-year-old Jarry gives the Penguins a long-term option but there were questions concerning his durability and consistency last season with the team fighting for a playoff berth. A two-time All-Star, Jarry missed a month last season with an upper-body injury, and the Penguins struggled in his absence, going just 4-5 over nine games.
All that said, he reached 20 wins with Pittsburgh for the fourth consecutive season and topped 40 appearances for the second straight.
Graves, who went from depth option to Cale Makar’s defensive partner, became a salary-cap casualty with the Colorado Avalanche. He was traded to the Devils before the start of the 2021-22 season, where he found a fit in a young but deep defensive group on the cusp of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2018.
The trade meant Graves just missed out on Colorado’s Stanley Cup season, but he improved his overall game with New Jersey, balancing a steady, sure skill-set in his own zone with some timely offense.
Another item that made Graves valuable to the Devils was his three-year deal worth $3.1 million annually aided the Devils as they locked up their young, high-priced forwards with that additional cap room.
In his first season with the Devils, he finished with six goals and 28 points, while occupying 20:43 time on the ice. The following season, he had matched that goal total by March, and was a fixture on New Jersey’s second unit while it competed for the Metropolitan Division title with the Carolina Hurricanes.
What made the 2013 fourth-round pick was an attractive name on the open market was his 6-foot-5 and 220-pound build coupled with the fact he could be trusted in 5-on-5 play and was part of a Devils’ penalty kill that was fourth with an 82.6 percent success rate.
Not long after their Jarry and Graves announcements, the Penguins finalized some depth moves. They also announced they had struck a deal with Alex Nedeljkovic to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million to create a goaltending trio that also includes Casey DeSmith, who has one year left at $1.8 million.
Also, they signed Noel Acciari to a three-year contract while adding Matt Nieto on a two-year pact. Acciari had 14 goals and 23 points for his second strongest offensive season while playing for the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nieto began last year with the San Jose Sharks before he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where he had a previous stint. The two-way, bottom-six forward finished with 12 goals and 24 points for his sixth season of more than 20 points.
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