Let me make something abundantly clear, Martin Jones is my favorite full-time starting goaltender in San Jose Sharks history.
That isn’t actually saying much though.
Evgeni Nabokov, who is widely considered the best goalie in franchise history, finished his career with a ho-hum save percentage of .911. Nabokov certainly had some great seasons, 2003-04 comes to mind, as does 2006-07. However, he temporarily lost his starting job in 2005-06 and was a key reason why the Sharks flopped as a No. 1 seed in 2008-09. He also wasn’t particularly sharp in his final playoff run with San Jose in 2010. He sparkled in the regular season, but was overworked by Head Coach Todd McLellan to the tune of 71 starts as a 34-year old.
I really like Martin Jones, but I’m not yet convinced he is deserving of having his salary doubled (his cap hit will go up from $3M to $5.75M in 2018-19). In my eyes, this extension was a wee bit premature from GM Doug Wilson and the Sharks’ perspective.
What We Know About Martin Jones
Jones turned in a rather pedestrian .912 save percentage last season. Of goalies who appeared in 50 or more games last season, that ranks 18th. Not exactly stellar. Guys like Peter Budaj, Jake Allen, Mike Smith and Ryan Miller all had higher save percentages last season.
Yes, Jones’ first regular season with San Jose was solid (.918 save percentage) and his playoff run to the Stanley Cup final was even better (.923). Furthermore, this past year’s playoffs he turned in a .935. That said, Jones’ five hole was a big problem against Edmonton back in April. That gaping five hole is a significant concern, as is his tendency to get beat high glove.
While there is a good chance that Jones does indeed live up to his new contract, there is also a decent chance that he won’t. Personally, I would have preferred the Sharks hold off on the extension for just a few months. Why not wait and see how Jones performs in the first half of the season in what would be a contract year? Jones has the talent to be a consistent >.920 goaltender, but he has yet to get there.
Now there certainly would have been some risk allowing Jones to go into the season without a long-term contract. Perhaps if that happened, he and his agent would then decide to pursue free agency and the Sharks would risk losing him. Or perhaps he plays so well through December and January that he demands another $500K-$1M per year?
Those however, would have been minimal risks.
If Jones were to shine in the first half without a new contact and demanded another $500K-$1M, he wouldn’t be taking up that much more of the cap. And at that point, it would be far clearer that he is on his way to being a top-10, if not top-5 goaltender.
If Jones were to shine and then decide to test the free agent market, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If he were to sign elsewhere, San Jose could put that money toward another goalie or scoring winger. An elite proven goaltender is far from a requirement to with the Cup.
Recent Cup Winning Goalies
Of all the Stanley Cup winning goaltenders dating back to 2006, only Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Tim Thomas were proven, veteran stars being paid as such. Otherwise, the list includes goalies who had yet to hit their big pay day, or a veteran like Chris Osgood who had to discover the fountain of youth. Cam Ward, Matt Murray and Antti Niemi all started their first Cup-winning seasons as rookie backups. Marc-Andre Fleury’s new contract had already kicked in, but he was still relatively unproven going into 2008-2009. Jonathan Quick was still playing for less than $2M in 2012 and Corey Crawford’s 2013 cap hit was just $2.6M.
Yes, Crawford and Quick each went onto win their second Stanley Cups as big money goalies. But goalies can often be a crap shoot. When anyone thinks of the top-5 goalies in the league today, we immediately think of Carey Price, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist, and then perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky and Crawford. Out of those five, only Crawford has won the Cup.
Everybody knows you need to get great goaltending to win four rounds in a single playoff. However, in recent memory, it seems like Cup-winning goalies were just as likely to have started the season as a backup than they were to have been a bonafide star.
Sharks Have Never Handled Goalies Well
The minimal risk of perhaps losing Jones to free agency would have been worth it in order to make him prove himself for a bit longer. Another half-season sample size before committing to long-term, top-dollar contract would have made me much happier.
Hopefully my concerns about Jones turn out to be silly and he leads San Jose to a Stanley Cup parade within the next few years. But I have seen this time and time again with the Sharks, they always overuse their No. 1 goalie. They did it with Nabokov and with Niemi. Popular backup Alex Stalock didn’t live up to the billing when given his opportunity, but the Sharks never really gave Thomas Greiss a chance. Greiss has since carved out a nice NHL career since leaving San Jose. I would hate to see the same thing happen with current backup Aaron Dell.
Mr. Frozen: Aaron Dell
Dell was absolutely fantastic last year in his rookie campaign. He led the entire NHL in even-strength save percentage of goaltenders who appeared in 15 or more games. Dell posted a mind-boggling .946 save percentage at even strength in 20 games (17 starts) last season.
Now Dell didn’t come into the NHL as a highly-rated prospect, so perhaps last season was just a flash in the pan. Or, maybe he is the next Greiss, who just needs to be given a chance. It’s not uncommon for goalies to go from journeyman to NHL stars. Names like Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson and Brian Elliott come to mind.
I’m still hoping that Dell will end up getting a significant increase in playing time this year. Instead of 17 starts, more like 23-27. However, with Jones’ extension this offseason, the Sharks have already fully committed to him as their goalie of the future. Had they held off, they could have used Dell to push Jones at the start of the upcoming season. This isn’t to say Jones is the type to get complacent, but it’s not uncommon to see goalies play their best when they know there is a backup capable of stealing ice time.