For the past three seasons, the San Jose Sharks have ranked near the bottom of the NHL in terms of goaltending, rolling out tandems of former goalie Martin Jones and a revolving door of different backup goalies. General manager Doug Wilson pulled out all the stops and tried to help Jones rebound and improve his game, but a third straight season with sub-NHL stats resulted in the buyout of the remaining three seasons on Jones’ contract, and the search for new goalies began. Wilson waited for the right names to become available, and wound up trading for Arizona Coyotes goalie Adin Hill, and signing unrestricted free agent (UFA) goalie James Reimer, answering the Sharks’ goaltending question for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
Sharks Get Big Upgrade From Jones
When Jones first came to the Sharks in the 2015-16 season, he looked like a goalie with elite starting potential, and proved it when he carried the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final in team history, before eventually losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would play well in the two following seasons, but his play saw a significant drop-off after that. In the past three seasons, he finished with an identical, abysmal .896 save percentage (SV%), and in the past two seasons posted a goals against average (GAA) over 3.00. Those numbers are enough for a backup goalie to lose their spot on a roster, let alone a starting goalie.
Now that Jones has been bought out and the Sharks have officially moved on from him, it’s time to see how the new faces in the locker room, Reimer and Hill, can act as a major upgrade from the goaltending the Sharks have seen in recent seasons. Let’s start by taking a look at Reimer, who joins the Sharks for his second stint in a teal sweater.
Shortly after the NHL’s free agency window opened, the Sharks signed Reimer to a two-year, $4.5 million contract, with a $2.25 million average annual value (AAV). Reimer was previously acquired by the Sharks in 2016, and appeared in eight games, going 6-2-0 and recording a 1.62 GAA, .938 SV%, and three shutouts. He’s not expected to replicate those numbers, but he is expected to bring a stabilizing, veteran presence to the crease in front of a young goalie in Hill.
“James is an experienced NHL goaltender who we know well from his previous stint in San Jose,” said Wilson after signing him. “Along with Adin Hill, his addition helps solidify the goaltending position for our club and we’re very excited to bring him back to the Sharks.” (From ‘Sharks Sign Goaltender James Reimer’ NHL.com, 7/28/2021)
Reimer appeared in 22 games with the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2020-21 season, going 15-5-2 and recording a 2.66 GAA and .906 SV%. The previous season, he had a .910 SV%, and has posted that mark or better in seven of his 11 NHL seasons playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sharks, the Florida Panthers, and most recently the Hurricanes. Reimer has a decent body of work in the NHL, playing 385 career games and earning 173 victories, a 2.79 GAA, and .913 SV%.
Now, let’s look at Hill. Earlier this summer, the Sharks acquired Hill from the Arizona Coyotes, who were having a fire sale and trading away several of their talented players, goalies included. The Sharks sent goalie prospect Josef Korenar and a 2022 second-round pick to the Coyotes for Hill and a 2022 seventh-round pick, getting a piece that many see as a potential “goalie of the future.”
In 19 games played last season, Hill posted a 9-9-1 record, a 2.74 GAA, and a .913 SV% along with two shutouts. The 25-year-old has played just 49 NHL games so far, amassing a 19-21-4 record. Despite his lack of experience at the NHL level, though, Hill earned a new contract with the Sharks when they signed him to a two-year, $4.35 million contract, worth $2.175 AAV.
Hill’s Contract Similar To Jones’ Deal From 2015
Wilson’s acquisition of Hill draws a lot of similarities to his acquisition of Jones in the summer of 2015, including the first contracts he signed both of them to. Jones, who had played just 34 NHL games over two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings prior to joining the Sharks, signed a three-year, $9 million contract ($3 million AAV) in 2015, and Wilson felt comfortable making that signing since he saw Jones as his future starter. With Hill, slightly shorter term and a lower cap hit might be an indication of the same belief from Wilson, albeit with a lesson learned that goalies don’t always pan out the way you think they might.
The Sharks sent a second-round pick to the Coyotes along with one of their better goalie prospects who was close to being NHL-ready, even if his projected ceiling was as a backup, and it’s hard to imagine that Wilson would be comfortable parting ways with those assets if he didn’t believe Hill had starting potential one day. The contract he signed backs that up, too, since it’s close to what Reimer is making now and indicates a battle for the starting job could take place this season to help the Sharks be more competitive than in the past two seasons.
Reimer & Hill Set to Battle For Starting Job
In acquiring Reimer and Hill this offseason, the Sharks have made their goaltending situation demonstrably better, providing sudden hope and immediate depth where there was none at all just a month ago. They now have two goalies who I believe are similar in skill set and potential for this upcoming season, and will likely have to battle it out to earn starts over one another. They’ll also work as a good tandem, and be able to teach each other how to play better.
Now 33 years old, Reimer is a veteran goalie who has been both a starter and backup, and has played well in the postseason, with a .925 SV% in 11 playoff games in his career. Making the playoffs at all might be a long shot for the Sharks, but if they manage to sneak in, Reimer could be called upon for his experience to help them.
Hill, on the other hand, is young, doesn’t have a lot of experience at the NHL level, and hasn’t experienced much success coming from the Coyotes. What he does have is a great deal of talent, athleticism, and a big frame built for an NHL goal crease. The Sharks have good goalie coaches and a good coaching staff, and Hill can always look to Reimer for tips and tricks in being a successful goalie in the NHL.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Reimer and Hill compete during training camp and in the preseason to see who starts the first regular season game, and for head coach Bob Boughner to use his own discretion in “riding the hot hand” and rewarding the more consistent goalie with more starts. If done right, both goalies can help the Sharks win games and neither goalie will want out for lack of playing time. Reimer, after all, has been in similar situations himself splitting time with Jonathan Bernier with the Maple Leafs. The Sharks, for the first time in a long time, will have a real competition in net, and it could benefit them in the long run.
Sharks’ Goalie Prospect Pipeline Is Deep
It’s not just the Sharks’ NHL goalies that give fans a reason to be excited this season. Their prospect pipeline with respect to goalies is actually ranked as one of the better ones among all 32 NHL teams, and some of their goalie prospects have serious NHL potential. At the top of that list is Alexei Melnichuk, a 23-year-old native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who went un-drafted and was signed as a free agent by the Sharks on May 4, 2020.
Melnichuk made his NHL debut for the Sharks last season, appearing in three games and going 0-1-1, while struggling with a 5.05 GAA and .864 SV%. Fans shouldn’t be too disappointed, though, since he was playing behind a depleted and bottoming roster toward the end of the season, and Wilson was just getting a feel for what he has in him. It’s clear he’s not ready to make the jump to the NHL, but with two capable NHL goalies on the big club’s roster now, he doesn’t have to, and can spend more time developing with the Sharks’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate San Jose Barracuda.
Behind Melnichuk on the Barracuda roster, the Sharks have a pair of intriguing prospects in Zach Sawchenko and Zacharie Émond. Sawchenko, signed as a free agent to a two-year entry-level contract (ELC) back in April, split his time between the Barracuda and the Sharks’ ECHL affiliate Allen Americans last season, and would be a good fit in the AHL alongside Melnichuk next season. Émond, the Sharks sixth-round pick in 2018, is another highly-rated goalie prospect who gives them organizational depth. He has yet to play a professional hockey game, and most recently played with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Rounding out the goalie prospect pool is Benjamin Gaudreau, the Sharks’ third-round pick from the 2021 draft and a goalie for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL); Mike Robinson, the Sharks’ third-round pick from the 2015 draft and a goalie with the University of New Hampshire in the NCAA; and Magnus Chrona, a goalie with the University of Denver in the NCAA. The Sharks have one of the deepest goalie prospect pools in the NHL, and it will be exciting to see how they all develop this upcoming season and beyond.
Sharks Set In Goal For 2020-21 Season
In the matter of about a month, Wilson and the Sharks front office has managed to turn a poor goaltending situation into a good one, and they managed to do so while staying under the salary cap and not giving up too many assets. Reimer and Hill leave some more to be desired, for sure, but they are a major improvement from what the Sharks had previously, and the potential for Reimer to usher Hill into a starter’s role is present, and could help prove to Sharks fans that they have their next starter. Between their NHL goalies and their deep pool of prospects, the Sharks appear to be set for the 2020-21 season, and hopefully that translates into success on the ice.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres & San Jose Sharks Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15