The top three all-time San Jose Sharks goalies is a tough list to come up with. While there have been many goaltenders who have prowled the blue paint at the SAP Center, only a handful can be considered the best in franchise history. The Hockey Writers boiled down the list and ranked the trio of Sharks goalies who are the best of Team Teal.
Number 3: Martin Jones
It is tough to pare down the list down to just three when you look at the important netminders who have been with the Sharks. Arturs Irbe and Mike Vernon were both strongly considered, but when you look at the tale of the tape, Martin Jones comes out above the cut.
The former Calgary Hitmen goalie came to San Jose in a deal with the Boston Bruins who had only days before acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings. The trade on June 30, 2015, sent prospect Sean Kuraly and San Jose’s 2016 first round NHL entry draft pick to Boston for the Stanley Cup winning (backup) goalie. General manager Doug Wilson wasted no time and quickly signed the promising, but unproven, Jones to a three-year, $9 million contract.
Jones took over the starting job after San Jose traded the rights to No. 2 on this list, Antti Niemi, to the Dallas Stars after five decent years, but ones without the postseason success that the team craved. Enter Jones and his first year in teal came two wins away from perfection.
There was some concern over how the young Jones would respond to his first full-time starter role since entering the NHL. Backing up Jones was the regressing Alex Stalock so there was little margin for error.
After an uneven first half of the 2015-16 season, Jones righted the ship. He got a breather down the stretch when the Sharks traded for James Reimer, who went on to play all 10 of his games in San Jose in a 30-day span. Jones, now rested, entered the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs with the Sharks as the Pacific Division’s third seed.
Jones was exceptional in the NHL’s second season, posting a 2.16 goals-against average (GAA) and .923 save percentage (SV%) to go with three shutouts. The Sharks ultimately fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the team’s only trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
In the 2016-17 season, Jones played well again with 2.54 GAA and a .915 SV%. He was solid again in his 10 games the playoffs, putting up a 2.25 GAA and a .928 SV%.
More recently, Jones has struggled in the first two seasons of his six-year, $34.5-million contract extension that took effect in the 2018-19 season. He has since lost his starting job to Aaron Dell. So far in his 33 games in 2019-20, he is averaging 3.25 GAA and his save percentage is a lowly .889.
In his five seasons with San Jose, Jones is third in all-time wins with 151.
Number 2: Antti Niemi
Second on our list, Antti Niemi, took over the crease when the team moved on from Evgeni Nabokov ahead of the 2010-11 season after the Chicago Blackhawks walked away from a one-year, $2.75 million arbitration award.
Both goalies were casualties of the salary cap and Nabokov would head to Russia and Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract to join the San Jose goalie stable along with Alex Stalock and Antero Niittymaki.
The next handful of seasons, the Vantaa, Finland native started 296 games for San Jose and earning 163 wins with 25 coming by way of shutout, all ranking second in franchise history. Niemi also has the best career save percentage in Sharks history (.917).
Many fans will point to the lack of playoff success with San Jose after advancing to the Western Conference Finals in Niemi’s first season with the Sharks. However, his best postseason campaign in 2013 was the second-best ever by a San Jose goalie with a 1.87 GAA and .930 SV%. Niemi’s postseason numbers overall in San Jose were not so stellar: just a .905 SV% and 2.79 GAA and a losing record of 19-20.
Despite never making it past the third round, and sub-par postseason numbers, the five years of consistent regular season goaltending places Niemi in this exclusive company.
Number 1: Evgeni Nabokov
The number one goaltender in the history of the Sharks is undisputed. Of the 28 players who have tended the twine for San Jose, no reasonable case may be made for anyone outside of Evgeni Nabokov. He has been such a big part of this organization’s success, that the Sharks hired Nabokov as their new goaltending coach in Dec. 2019.
The native of Oskemen, Kazakhstan came to San Jose in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft as a humble ninth-round selection and 219th overall. None of the Sharks scouting staff saw their future franchise goaltender play. Reportedly, San Jose selected Nabokov based on the bloodlines of his father, Viktor Nabokov, who played for nearly two decades in Kazakhstan.
After the Sharks had selected the 6-foot, 198-pound goalie, he spent the next three season with Dynamo Moskva in the Russian league before heading across the pond for a two-year acclimation with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, then the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, at the start of the 1997-98 season.
His big break would come on Jan. 1, 2000, with a four-save relief performance against the Nashville Predators. Nabokov would get his NHL starting debut on Jan. 19 with a 39-save shutout, dueling future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy and the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche to a 0-0 tie.
The next nine seasons would see ‘Nabby’ as he was affectionately known, lock down nearly ever meaningful franchise record. Nabokov led the Sharks to their only Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 and helped San Jose to the Western Conference Final in 2003-04 and 2009-10.
In addition to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL top rookie in 2001, Nabokov appeared in two All-Star games and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting after the 2007-08 season, losing by just eight votes to Martin Brodeur.
He leads the Sharks in games played (563), wins (293) shots faced (14,757), saves (12,463), penalty minutes (100) and shutouts (50). He is also the all-time leading scoring goalie in Sharks history, with a goal and nine assists, leaving truly no statistical stone unturned in his claim as the top goaltender in franchise history.
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