Facing the San Jose Sharks, opponents are already smelling the blood in the water or, more accurately, the crease. Dating back to last season, goaltending continues to be the Achilles heel for an otherwise-contending team on paper. Unfortunately for the Sharks, No. 1 goalie Martin Jones’ stats leave a paper-thin margin for error each game.
Entering action Saturday night, Jones is 7-7-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. That save percentage ranks No. 45 among goalies with at least seven games played in the NHL, a league with just 31 teams, keep in mind. That means some teams’ No. 2 options are playing better than the Sharks’ No. 1.
Maybe it’s worth it for general manager Doug Wilson to kick some tires at this point. After all, for a team that’s built to keep winning with just a single non-playoff season since 2003, they’re not doing a lot of it now. At 9-10-1, the Sharks are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2015. Here are Wilson’s top goaltending alternatives to Jones that may help salvage the season:
5. Josef Korenar
Technically, the Sharks could look within their own organization. Unfortunately, backup Aaron Dell isn’t getting the job done either, having posted weaker numbers than Jones up to this point this season with a 3.83 GAA and .878 save percentage. Highly touted-prospect Josef Korenar, who’s currently developing in the American Hockey League, is next-highest on the depth chart.
The 21-year-old had a breakout season in 2018-19, his first as a professional in North America. He went 23-10-1 with a .911 save percentage, playing for the San Jose Barracuda. However, the bad goaltending seems to be contagious throughout the organization this season, as he’s 3-4-2 with an .886 save percentage so far.
Needless to say, it would be one thing to promote a young goalie who’s earned his stripes. It’s quite another to throw one who’s struggling to the wolves, even if a lost season for the entire team is at stake. The move would reek of desperation and put Korenar’s development at risk, meaning not just this season would be at risk. Since the Sharks have high hopes for Korenar, they should handle him with care and look outside the organization for now. Consider this Plan E.
4. Linus Ullmark
Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark tends to fly under the radar. The truth of the matter is Ullmark is underrated with a career .910 save percentage over parts of five seasons with the Sabres since he made his debut back in 2015-16. Seeing as those Sabres teams in front of him haven’t been very good, that mark is almost a ringing endorsement.
Always the bridesmaid, Ullmark is 26 and would likely have earned a shot at a starting job by now on any other team. A pending restricted free agent, he technically should have earned one with the Sabres by now in all honesty, but, you know, Carter Hutton… Right.
All due respect to Hutton, the Sabres are a team that had a Robin Lehner entering his prime and didn’t know what to do with him. Maybe a second young Swedish goaltender could be pried away from them without them realizing what they had until it’s too late (for the Sabres, anyway). The Sharks can still turn this thing around yet.
3. Anders Nilsson
From one young Swedish goalie overlooked by the Sabres to another: Anders Nilsson played for the Sabres back in 2016-17 (and played well), before signing with the Vancouver Canucks. He’s since been plying his trade and playing lights out for the Ottawa Senators.
You wouldn’t know it, looking at Nilsson’s 2.76 GAA so far this season. However his .925 save percentage has him as the Senators’ de facto No. 1 with Craig Anderson’s numbers plummeting as he enters the twilight of his career. Nilsson’s no spring chicken, though. The soon-to-be 30-year-old’s status as a journeyman goalie might be enough to get the Senators to part ways with him for the right price.
From Nilsson’s perspective, his career has taken him from non-playoff team to non-playoff team. He’s never had the benefit of playing for a legitimate contender. Maybe the Sharks can become one with him in nets.
He’s has already been named by at least one analyst as a potential replacement for Jones. His $2.6 million cap hit admittedly poses problem for the Sharks, who are right up the ceiling. However, the Senators could theoretically be convinced to take on a bad contract in exchange if the Sharks sweeten the pot. Jones’, maybe?
2. Thomas Greiss
A one-time Shark, New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss was drafted by San Jose back in 2004. He enjoyed some good years as a backup with the Sharks, before signing with the then-Phoenx Coyotes in 2013-14. He’s since bounced around before landing with the Islanders in 2015-16. However, despite consistently putting up solid numbers, Greiss has never been given a chance be a No. 1 year in, year out.
He’s come close with the Islanders, playing over 40 games on several occasions. However, even after Greiss successfully split goaltending duties with Lehner, the Vezina Trophy runner-up, last season, the Islanders deemed it necessary to go out and sign Semyon Varlamov. It seems Greiss can’t get any respect.
As most could have predicted, Greiss is in the process of outplaying Varlamov, as he platoons in and out with the ex-Colorado Avalanche starter. However, the Islanders have Varlamov, who’s been far from bad, for the next four seasons. Greiss has just been that good with a league-leading .942 save percentage, but is only under contract until July 1.
Seeing as Varlamov (31) is also two years younger than Greiss (33), it would be even harder for the Islanders to pencil him in as their starter moving forward. Maybe they could be swayed to trade him and get something in return, instead of letting him walk away to greener pastures for nothing?
1. Tristan Jarry
Statistically speaking, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry is already one of the best backups in the league. He’s also got starting potential as a 24-year-old, so much so that Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford opted to demote another great backup in Casey DeSmith out of training camp rather than risk losing Jarry to waivers.
Back then, Rutherford openly admitted there was a possibility he trade one of his goalies. So, there’s a chance Jarry could be available. Even if he’s played better than expected since then, there’s little chance he usurps incumbent Matt Murray, who’s only 25. More to the point, he’s just one year older than Jarry (24).
Realistically speaking, there’s no way Jarry is the Penguins’ goalie of the future, when that future still revolves around Murray. He can theoretically instead be the Sharks’ goalie of the present instead… or at least near-future, assuming a deal can be made.