While many may not use that word to describe Martin Jones, the 31-year-old netminder has had consistent results in each of the last three regular seasons.
Unfortunately, that consistency has come in Jones’ ability to put up a lackluster .896 save percentage (SV%). And, the most recent season was possibly the worst of the last three years, considering Jones’ .923 SV% in February largely inflated his numbers in a truly rough season.
Jones will likely remain on the San Jose Sharks roster until the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, but there is little reason to believe their general manager Ron Francis would consider taking the netminder. After then, I would expect Jones to be bought out by Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
The Likely Buyout and its Implications
Luckily for Wilson and Sharks fans, Jones has no remaining bonuses on his current contract, making his buyout fairly straightforward.
Jones has three years remaining on his contract that carries an annual cap hit $5.75 million. For reference, the netminder narrowly makes more money than Tomas Hertl, possibly the team’s best forward. As Jones is over 26 years old, the Sharks must pay Jones two-thirds of his remaining earnings spread over the next six years.
Will Wilson really make a decision that will see the Sharks paying Jones through the 2026-27 season? In my opinion, yes. The first three years of the buyout would be tricky, with San Jose paying $1.9 million next season, $2.4 million in 2022-23, and $2.9 million in 2023-24. While that amounts to dead cap space, it’s still less than half of Jones’ salary for his remaining three seasons.
The final three seasons would have the Sharks pay $1.66 million annually. Hopefully, the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap will have increased by this time, and the buyout penalty will be quite manageable. San Jose could wait until next year for a Jones buyout, and the price spread over four years would be even less, but I’m not sure of the use. Josef Korenar, currently a restricted free agent, outplayed Jones at the end of the season, and signing him for any cap hit under $2.5 million means the Sharks will have a more effective goalie, with a higher ceiling, and nets less money than Jones.
Assuming Korenar signs for less than $1 million, which I would anticipate, the Sharks will either have more money to play with in the 2021 offseason or have financial security in the future. The Jones buyout savings could be what is needed to extend Hertl, who will demand a pay raise at the 2022 offseason.
Maybe “Replacing Jones” is not the best phrasing, however, Jones did leave a large mark in San Jose. The Sharks are known for somewhat “burning out” goalies. Jones played at least 60 games each season between 2015-16 and 2018-19. In 2007-08, Evgeny Nabokov played 77 of his team’s 82 games. The Sharks cannot give the responsibility of 60, or even 50, games to Korenar next season. A new goalie will be brought in by Wilson.
Luckily for the Sharks, there are a plethora of netminders available in the 2021 free agency class. If the plan is to roll with Korenar as a backup, and Alexei Melnichuk as the AHL starter, I would anticipate Wilson opts for a more veteran and cheap netminder. This keeps salary and contract term low if the free agent falls under expectation or a young goaltender takes over as the NHL starter.
The Sharks will look for league average goaltending, something the club has not had in the regular season for quite some time. Over the last few seasons, their team SV% has been around .903 to .905, with Jones’ .896 usually seeing the Sharks finish under average. Assuming San Jose opts for a netminder with experience who isn’t demanding a large contract, I have a few candidates.
The player who seems to fit the bill the most in my eyes is Jaroslav Halak. He will be the cheapest option I mention, started 19 games last season, and has a long resume as a goalie who can perform in many different situations. He is 36, which is on the older side, but with a .905 SV% and likelihood of leaving Boston, I see him as a target for teams needing a veteran goaltender.
James Reimer, 34, could be an option as well. The former Shark, who was on the team for the 2016 playoffs, had a .906 SV% with Carolina last season through 22 games. He likely demands little term and a decent salary, however, he was the third goalie on the Hurricanes by the end of the season, which could decrease his value.
The last goalie I will suggest is Antti Raanta. He is 32 years old and has had an injury-riddled career. Always competing with Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill for the crease in Arizona, he likely moves to a larger role with a new club. Through 12 games, Raanta carried a .905 SV%, but signing him will be a gamble for any franchise, given his injury history.
While I highlight those goalies as likely targets for the Sharks, there are a variety of options the Sharks could take. I am of the thinking that Wilson will want veteran experience for his presumed starter or 1A goalie. Some other names the Sharks will surely check out include Frederik Andersen, Petr Mrazek, Chris Driedger, Linus Ullmark, Jonathan Bernier.
End of an Era
Jones twice took the Sharks to the Western Conference Final, and once brought them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. He was usually solid if not sensational in the postseason, and his decline could be tied with the hesitancy of Wilson and former coach Peter DeBoer to bring in a competent backup, forcing Jones into 60 or more games per season.
The Sharks will look very different without No. 31 in the crease, but it’s a change I feel many see coming. A buyout would also see the first of Wilson’s notoriously large contracts be moved from the team. Likely the first of many, the team will deal with salary cap issues with or without Martin Jones.