The San Jose Sharks made a huge splash this off-season when acquiring defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.
Obviously one of the biggest trades in a long time, which Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson felt he needed to make after a disappointing free agent season when he wasn’t able to sign coveted center John Tavares. With arguably the best defense core in the NHL now, lead by super star EK65 (Karlsson), Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, they should be able to shut down top talent all around the National Hockey League.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. While the Sharks sit second overall in the Pacific Division, and third in the NHL in points, there is a major red flag when it comes to their chances of making it past the other Western Conference teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The biggest problem I see is their goaltending. As we have seen with the last 13 teams to win the Stanley Cup, they have had their goaltenders keep them in games and help lead them to the championship. Can current Sharks goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell keep their heads above water to get this team back to the finals and finally win the Stanley Cup?
This is a goalie that every team would have loved to have a few seasons ago when coming over from the Los Angeles Kings. In 2015-2016, his first season with the Sharks, he posted a 0.918 save percentage, 2.27 goals against average and won 37 of the 65 games he started, impressive for any goaltender in the league. The last two seasons, however, were average. His save percentage fell just a little, and goals against average went up slightly. He was still keeping his teams in games most nights.
This season is wildly different though. Jones, now 29 years old, is having the worst statistical season of his career. In 38 games, he still has 23 wins, but has a .0895 SV%, and 2.98 GAA. Jones is last place in the league in even strength save percentage at a 0.890 SV%. While he holds a strong short-handed save percentage, Jones is making it hard for Doug Wilson to justify his salary of $5.75 million average annual value (AAV). If it wasn’t for the Sharks boasting 187 goals for (the third highest in the league), Jones wouldn’t be winning his team many games.
Dell entered the NHL in 2016 poised to be a back-up goalie, with the potential to be a starter down the road. With a 0.931 SV%, and 2.00 GAA in his first season over 20 games played, Dell showed flashes of stardom. But since that season, Dell has fallen into a territory of Sharks fans hoping he isn’t starting that night. A steady decline over the last two seasons has led to Dell playing 17 games this season with a miserable .891 SV% and allowing 47 goals for a 3.11 GAA. These numbers are just unacceptable for an NHL back-up goalie. The Sharks will want to have confidence in their back-up going into the playoffs should Martin Jones needs a break or under performs in a few games. Dell needs to show the Sharks he is capable and needs to improve these numbers quickly.
What Needs To Be Done?
We can only hope that the NHL All-Star break and bye week for the San Jose Sharks will be beneficial for the goalies. But if it doesn’t fix the problems Jones and Dell are having, the Sharks should be looking at other options. The big goaltender on the market this trade deadline will be Sergei Bobrovsky. Even if he is available, the Sharks would have to get rid of Jones to fit him in their lineup. Plus, obtaining Bobrovsky might cost GM Wilson too many assets, something the Sharks do not have much of after previous deals made by Wilson. The better option might be to get a competent back up with plenty of playoff experience, who might be able to take the starting role or push Jones to be better from fear of losing the starting gig.
One name that comes to mind for San Jose to target is Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings. Howard is on one of the worst teams in the NHL right now, but is still providing great stats. He has a 0.916 SV%, and a 2.76 GAA, proving that even at the age of 34, he is still as competent as ever, and has more playoff experience as any other goaltender which may be available. Howard would also be a great asset to help Jones when he starts to flounder under pressure.
Another goalie who can help the Sharks down the stretch and into the playoffs is Semyon Varlamov. The Colorado Avalanche net-minder is amazing when healthy, and sees some of the highest shot totals against in the NHL on a nightly basis. He may also come cheap to the Sharks, as the Avalanche think they have their next starter in Philip Grubauer. Varlamov has better stats than Jones and Dell this season, and he can handle a huge work load. He is also known for being very unprotected by his defense, which would change drastically if he moved to San Jose. This help would be a huge improvement for the 31-year-old Russian goalie, and he could be the new starter if the Sharks wanted to re-sign him.
While the San Jose Sharks have a great amount of depth in scoring, and their defencemen are some of the best in the NHL, they still lack the one thing that separates contenders from regular season heroes. They need to do something about their goalie situation, and finding a competent backup is the best option.
The window to make it to the finals is closing for the Sharks, as they have one of the older teams in the league. If I were Wilson, this would be my year to go all in.
Statistics provided by frozenpool.dobbersports.com and hockey-reference.com
Featured Photo Image Credit to Nikos Michals