The San Jose Sharks have a lot of important decisions to make this offseason, but the most pressing question is what the organization plans to do about goaltending. From what has recently been written, it appears Martin Jones is not the future of the club. This leaves a big question yet to be answered: who is going to be starting in net for the Sharks in the 2021-22 season?
The good news for San Jose is that there is likely to be quality options this offseason amid the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. There are a number of top-tier goaltenders expected to be exposed in the expansion draft, meaning that their team is likely hoping to offload them. This opens the door for the Sharks to get in on the bidding for one of them, as they should.
According to a recent poll taken by Kevin Kurtz at The Athletic, fans voted on which goalies they would like to see in teal for the start of next season, and I would like to go through the top three goaltenders on the list who could give the Sharks the biggest boost. (From ‘Survey says: Sharks fans split on Doug Wilson, open to a Tomas Hertl trade,’ The Athletic, 7/6/2021)
Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars)
Anton Khudobin may come as a surprise for many people. Picked 206th in the 2004 Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, he has not really turned into much more than a solid backup goaltender. He’s also not the youngest goaltender in the world (35), but he has a ton of experience. Though he only won 12 games of the 32 he played this past season, his save percentage (SV%) was .905, and he averaged 2.54 goals per game.
These may not sound like stellar numbers, but they are one strata above what Jones brought to the Sharks this season. Jones had a subpar .896 SV% and allowed over three goals per game, on average. If the Sharks are going to have any kind of shot at making the postseason in the near future, they have to find consistency in net.
Another upside to Khudobin is that his SV% has never dropped below .900 during his tenure in the NHL. The same cannot be said for Jones—who has averaged less than a .900 SV% the past three seasons (.896 all three seasons). This number, however, is likely shaded by the fact that Khudobin hasn’t played all that many games in a single season. The most games Khudobin has played in a single season is 42, and that was in the 2018-19 campaign.
Khudobin is a risk both due to his age and lack of games played. However, the Sharks do not need to be swinging for fences in their search for a goaltender this upcoming season. All the Sharks’ upper brass really need to be doing is finding someone who is strictly better than Jones, and Khudobin could be their guy.
Should the Sharks pick Jesper Wallstedt at seventh overall in the upcoming entry draft—which many (including myself) believe is a very strong possibility—Khudobin could be a good fit for a single season, allowing Wallstedt to settle into his new environment. It’s possible (though it’s a long shot) that Wallstedt could be the full-time starter for the 2022-23 campaign. This, of course, would be the ideal situation.
Braden Holtby (Vancouver Canucks)
I don’t think Braden Holtby needs much of an introduction. I also think it goes without saying that he should be at the top of the Sharks’ list when it comes to possible goaltenders. He won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 and recently signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Though he won the Stanley Cup, was awarded the Vezina Trophy in the 2015-16 season and is considered the best goaltender in Capitals history, he has struggled to find his game with the Canucks. He played just 21 games with the club this past season, earning not-so-great results. Of those games, he won just seven contests and lost 11, getting pulled in three games.
It is bewildering how a goaltender who found so much success in previous years has suddenly fallen to backup status. Granted, much of Holtby’s success could be attributed to the team he had playing in front of him in Washington. While Vancouver appears to be on the up and up, they are not a team that can provide stability with the way Washington can. With that being said, there’s a certain amount of expectation that he brought to a struggling franchise, and he has, in large part, failed to deliver.
As a result, this could mean that he will be exposed to the Kraken during the expansion draft. It’s very possible that Holtby could find his game with a new organization, but it has yet to be seen how interested the expansion team is in him. If they decide to pass on him, he could very well be a good fit for the Sharks.
The Sharks’ veteran defenseman in Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic could prove to be a boon for both Holtby. It is difficult to justify the Sharks’ defensive play this past season—a defensive corps that, on paper, should be among the best in the league—but having Holtby behind them could prove to be the boost they need. It is conceivable that the veteran defenseman have been forced to play in a subpar way the past couple of seasons, knowing that they didn’t have as much confidence in their netminder as they would like. This could change with the former Vezina winner.
Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota Wild)
Kaapo Kahkonen has to be at the absolute top of the list of goaltenders potentially available this offseason. At just 24 years old, he has some NHL experience, and he’s proven to be a reliable netminder with a ceiling still unknown. During the Minnesota Wild’s impressive campaign in the 2020-21 season, he played 24 games (just under half the season), pulling in 16 wins and just eight losses. He registered a .904 SV% and allowed, on average, less than three goals per game.
Drafted 109th in 2014 by the Wild, the young goaltender has been a pleasant surprise thus far in the NHL. If the Wild could protect both him and Cam Talbot, they would. Since it looks like the northern club will be going with Talbot for the future (judging by Talbot’s postseason play this year), Kahkonen is going to be the odd man out. The Kraken will most certainly have their eye on the young player, but so should the Sharks.
As mentioned above, Kahkonen has not been in the league long enough to really assess what his ceiling is. He is still young and technically developing, but he has also proven that he can play the position with the best of them. I am of the opinion that teams are best served by building from the goalie forward, and he could be just the player the Sharks need in order to find incremental success in the 2021-22 season.
The Sharks extending a deal to Kahkonen could also communicate to the young netminder that he is better than a mere backup role. Every goalie wants to be in the game, every game. A big bonus is that the young, Finnish netminder will have a veteran defenseman in front of him should he make it out to the Bay Area, giving him the best possible shot at success. Only time will tell.
It’s no secret that the Sharks are not going to be Stanley Cup champions by a switch in net. There are a lot of dimensions to the club’s game that have to improve before they can really be considered contenders, but setting a solid foundation by signing a promising goalie is the best short-term solution.
Any of the three goalies above would go a long way in the organization letting the fans and roster players know that they intend to get this team back to top form. Wallstedt may be picked by the Sharks at seventh overall—and this would be great—but he is not going to be the short-term answer this team needs. The next couple of seasons for the Sharks are going to make all the difference. We, as fans, can only hope that big changes are coming.
As with many young kids who grow up in the Midwest, CG played a lot of hockey. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks. But he writes other things, too, including a debut novel that is set to come out in July of 2021. You can find him on Twitter @TheLastSisyphus.