With the NHL salary cap not likely to increase during the offseason, some teams will fare better than others. The San Jose Sharks might be on the wrong end of that, with bad contracts significantly hurting them. For instance, the Colorado Avalanche having Nathan MacKinnon locked into four more years at $6.3 million is an unbelievable contract for the team. In the East, the Boston Bruins having David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand tied to four and six-year deals, respectively, for a combined $12.8 million definitely helps them challenge. Meanwhile, the Sharks have Martin Jones taking up $5.75 million for another five years in one of the worst contracts in the league.
Jones played fewer minutes this season than in any other season since joining the Sharks. The NHL halting the season early played a part in this but he had also lost his place to backup Aaron Dell before the stoppage. Now the Sharks have a decision to make. Dell, 31, is older than Jones, 30, but has never established himself as a bonafide starting goaltender in the NHL. His numbers this year, 3.01 goals-against average (GAA) and .901 save percentage (SV%) were only slightly better than Jones’ 3.00 GAA and .896 SV%, but Dell is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent once the season ends. He also, however, earned $3.85 million less than Jones in the 2019-20 season.
If you decide Dell is your starting goaltender going forward, the chances of his $1.9 million salary doubling is not out of the realm of possibility. The problem is that puts you with nearly $10 million of your salary cap spent on goaltenders unless you move Jones on. And there is where the problem starts. Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Jones has what Hockey Reference deemed as “Really Bad Starts” 25 times. He had only 15 Quality Starts which Hockey Reference deems as starts with SV% > average SV% for the year, or at least 88.5% on nights with 20 or fewer shots against. That is unlikely to entice teams to want to take a gamble on someone whose numbers have been declining for a number of years now.
The free-agent market also doesn’t help the Sharks should they want to move on. The Pittsburgh Penguins have Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry both becoming restricted free agents and are likely to decide on which one they should go forward with, while possibly trading the other one. Whichever way they decide, that will put a goaltender on the market with more upside than Jones.
While Murray had a bad year this regular season, he also has two Stanley Cups to his name and is four years younger than Jones. Jarry on the other hand is coming off a good season, recording a .921 SV% during the regular season and a .952 during the 2020 Playoff Qualifiers. But without moving Jones you handicap yourself with his contract to essentially be a backup.
You could possibly do what the Toronto Maple Leafs did with Patrick Marleau and give up a high draft pick to someone as a sweetener to take him off your hands. It would probably have to be a first-round pick though to entice anyone to take that contract and again the free market hinders your possibilities. If other teams, especially those in a better cap situation, have the same options as above then why would they take Jones over either of the Penguins goaltenders?
It also looks like the New York Rangers are going to re-sign restricted free agent Alexandar Georgiev and partner him with Igor Shesterkin, meaning Henrik Lundqvist will be likely available. While it is a much heftier contract, $8.5 million AAV, he also only has next season remaining before becoming an unrestricted free agent. This could entice a team looking for a short-term fix rather than investing five more years into Jones.
Letting Dell Walk
The alternative is to let Dell walk and look for a replacement. A quick look shows Keith Kinkaid as an experienced option under the $1.9 million that is currently tied up in Dell. Kinkaid is currently the backup to Carey Price with the Montreal Canadiens but hasn’t had an above .900 SV% season since 2017-18. Louis Domingue will also be available as an unrestricted free agent, but like Kinkaid has found it rough as of late. After being traded to the New Jersey Devils from the Tampa Bay Lightning in November 2019 he posted a 3.79 GAA and .872 SV% over 16 games before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks in February 2020.
If looking inside the organization, the Sharks have Josef Korenar of the AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda. He is unlikely to become the starter, at least not straight away, if at all. Plus, his stats in the AHL are nothing to write home about. In 33 games during the 2019-20 season, he averaged 3.11 goals against and a 0.891 SV%, but at 22 years old there is still room for improvement on what was a good first season that saw him post a .911 SV%. At a cap hit of $723,333, he would also save the Sharks nearly $1.2 million in cap space if replacing Dell as the backup at a time when every penny counts.
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The other option is Alexei Melnichuk who will be coming over from KHL side SKA St. Petersburg after posting a 1.75 GAA and .928 SV% in 18 games over two seasons (2017-18 and 2019-20). He spent most of his time there between the Vysshaya Liga (VHL) and the Minor Hockey League (MHL) and joined the Sharks as an undrafted free agent. While the numbers are impressive it is a small sample size to base such a big decision, which likely means without trading Jones he goes into next season as the consensus number one. For the Sharks to once again challenge, that could be a problem.