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Pittsburgh Penguins Signing Jeff Zatkoff to 2-Year Extension Telegraphes Future of Pens Crease

December 22nd, 2013 at 12:19 PM
By Andrew Brown

Photo credit: West Point - The U.S. Military Academy / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The Pittsburgh Penguins awarded rookie netminder Jeff Zatkoff for his six straight wins with a two-year contract extension annually worth $600,000 dollars. The 26-year old American was thrown into the backup role a week before season's start and after allowing ten goals in his first two starts (both loses), Zatkoff has caught up to the speed of the NHL. During his current win streak he's beaten some good teams and has resembled the near dominate goalie he was in the AHL last season (1.93 GAA, .920 save percentage). On the year, he has a 6-2 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Plus he shutout the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 2nd.

On his early struggles, Zatkoff said, "I didn’t start the way I wanted to. But, I knew what I was capable of and knew I had confidence in myself. Obviously, when you come in and don’t have a lot experience and your first game goes like that, people aren’t going to be happy."

He added, "I love it here. I love the city, love the organization. It is a great organization. I am just excited to be here for the next couple years.”

With Zatkoff's two-year deal, the Pens front office has tipped their hand regarding the future of the goaltender situation. Tomas Vokoun, who hasn't played a game this year via recovery from blood clot surgery, is in the last year of his contract. Do not expect the Penguins to resign him. Vokoun's $2 million dollar cap hit is high for a 37-year old backup goalie. Zatkof has shown he can do the same job for $1.4 million dollars less. That's good math for the Pens but bad math for Vokoun. Despite going 13-4 with a 2.45 GAA and leading the Pens to the Eastern Conference Championship in 2012-2013, Tomas Vokoun's days as a Pittsburgh Penguins are likely done.

The domino effect of Zatkoff's extension is good news for starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. After a horrid playoff run, Flower has rebounded wonderfully this season. His 21 wins lead the NHL and his 2.04 GAA ranks seventh in the league. Regular season success is expected of Flower and that's why he gets paid $5 million dollars annually. That contract is up after the 2014-2015 season and given his playoff struggles (being nice here), that number has a chance to go down. But if Fleury has a great playoff run this year (and it has to be great) he can have more ammo at the negotiating table. If the reserve happens, than a contract with a low cap hit laced with performance bonuses might be the best solution. Either way, Zatkoff's low number plus a departing Vokoun's $2 million freed up will make it easier for the Penguins to resign Fleury. Franchise goalies are tough to come by, so keeping Flower should be a top priority this offseason.

The Penguins next game is Monday against the Ottawa Senators. Puck drops at 7:30pm.

Tags: Hockey, Jeff Zatkoff, Marc-Andre Fleury, NHL, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Vokoun

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