When it comes to the San Jose Sharks goaltending situation, a lot of the discussions about who should start come playoffs between Martin Jones and James Reimer have been missing one important concept, logic.
Goaltenders =/= Quarterbacks
First of all, goaltending in hockey is nothing at all like playing quarterback in the NFL. These two individual positions both get attributed with wins as a statistic and are often compared to each other in terms of importance. However, a quarterback has a far bigger impact on winning and losing in the NFL than goaltending does in the NHL. The quarterback needs to have chemistry with his wide receivers to score points. While hockey goaltenders do need to communicate with their on-ice teammates, the position doesn’t nearly require the same amount of timing and chemistry.
Furthermore, the vast majority of recent Super Bowl winning teams featured elite quarterbacks from the regular season. In the NHL, a significant number of Stanley Cup winners in recent years won with good, but not great regular season goaltenders (Chris Osgood, Marc-Andre Fleury and Antti Niemi in three straight seasons). The very best NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, have won championships. The very best NHL goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, have not. In an NHL fantasy draft, a No.1 center like Jonathan Toews will go way ahead of Price and Lundqvist.
NFL teams would never rotate quarterbacks because that would mess up the entire chemistry of the offense. The fair hockey analogy here would be if Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer put Joe Thornton with Chris Tierney and Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns with Justin Braun. These lineup changes would really screw up what has been working for the Sharks as of late. Switching up the goaltending position between Martin Jones and James Reimer however, does very little to mess with the team chemistry.
Furthermore, during most of March, Jones and Reimer were each playing at a high level while alternating starts. There is nothing to suggest this can’t continue come the playoffs. Yet some talking heads seem to think this idea is a crazy one.
A few have suggested to me that Sharks should just split Jones and Reimer 50-50 in the playoffs. No. No, no, no, no, no.
— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzNHL) April 6, 2016
As time goes on, the NHL is getting wiser and wiser in terms of realizing what makes teams successful. The age of enforcers and the demand for “physical players with size, toughness, and grit” is dying down in favor of smaller, more talented players like Johnny Gaudreau and Shayne Gostisbehere. Why there are so many hockey people afraid/unwilling to question the status quo is beyond me. The amount of ultra-conservative hockey minds out there is incredibly appalling even with new-age statistical evidence proving certain characteristics of players to now be obsolete.
There are plenty of people arguing that the Sharks must choose between Reimer and Jones for the playoffs, but only because that is hockey tradition. One goalie plays in the playoffs. That’s just the way it has always been. However, there is no evidence to suggest that a goalie tandem can’t work in the playoffs because there simply isn’t enough data to compare.
Keeping Reimer & Jones Fresh and Sharp
If the Sharks chose to play only one goalie or the other and he either struggles or suffers an injury, then they have to turn to a potentially rusty goaltender to try and save their playoff ship. With Reimer and Jones having very similar performances this season with comparable experience levels, neither one is the clear cut better option in goal in terms of ability. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to keep playing both come the postseason. They both give the Sharks essentially the same chance to win.
Choosing one or the other is far more of a gamble than splitting them 50-50. Neither goalie is going to struggle because they aren’t playing enough. Each of these guys has experience playing tremendous in a backup role with inconsistent ice time. That will not be the reason for any potential weak performance in net. However, possibly going three or four weeks without a start could certainly inhibit their play.
If the Sharks choose one or the other and he doesn’t play well in a first round series loss, there will be tons of second guessing the decision. Giving both an opportunity to play negates that second guessing from happening. Starting Jones and leaving Reimer on the bench despite Reimer’s gaudy numbers will look bad if Jones doesn’t perform. Likewise starting Reimer and not Jones will look bad if Reimer struggles because Jones is under contract. Jones is more than likely going to be the No. 1 starter next season. He certainly shouldn’t be benched for the playoffs, he has meant too much to this team this season and means too much to them going forward. It makes no sense to mess with his psyche.
DeBoer and the Sharks would be wise to start the playoffs with a (more or less) 50-50 platoon. Unless either goaltender falls off significantly to the point where he is a primary reason for playoff losses, then the platoon should continue throughout the playoffs. If one starts to significantly outplay the other, then certainly said goalie should take over the every game role.
The Ideal Platoon
For me personally, it keeps coming back to two simple things when it comes to Reimer and Jones in the playoffs. Jones has to be given game one of the playoffs because of what he has meant to this team this season. He has been the backbone of this team for 64 games this season and will likely be the starter next season with Reimer likely leaving via free agency. However, how can anyone justify keeping Reimer glued to the bench every game? All the former Maple Leaf has done since becoming a Shark is dominate. He was already having a terrific year with a bad Toronto team, but since the trade, he has posted a ridiculous 1.62 GAA and .938 save percentage with three shutouts in his eight starts. A goalie performing as well as Reimer has deserves to play.
Since neither goalie will struggle due to the platoon set up and extra rest between starts, there is no reason not to give both goaltenders a chance to perform in the postseason. The risks of bad performance and/or injury after designating a single starter and having to switch to the other is far greater than any risk of a platoon not working. It is highly unlikely that either one ends up hurting the team with his performance in a platoon scenario. It is far likelier though that picking one to be “the guy” and then having to switch to a rusty and possibly disgruntled (particularly if it’s Jones) backup will hurt the team. Both deserve to play and allowing them both to do so is far less risky than choosing one over the other.