There are no shortage of stories surrounding the San Jose Sharks in advance of the 2015-16 NHL season. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz continued his daily profile of the roster with the vital Chris Tierney Saturday, August 29. Ryan Dadoun of Pro Hockey Talk named their Friday coverage after the team while colleague Mike Halford tackled the obligatory captain question.
The trouble is that the success of the 2015-16 NHL season does not rely on who San Jose’s captain is or whether Tierney or any other young player is ready to take the leap. It is all about the goalie.
As previously examined in this column, the Sharks probably have a deeper pool of scoring-line forwards than any other team entering the 2015-16 NHL season. They have strong blue-line defenders and one of the best blue-line scorers.
That will not be enough to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs in a tough Western Conference unless Martin Jones can handle a starting NHL role. San Jose’s newest franchise goalie will have to be closer to the Antti Niemi of 2011 and 2013 (too bad “Nemo” was not on the season’s schedule instead of the calendar’s) and the Evgeni Nabokov of 2003-04 and 2009-10 than the inconsistency the position has seen the rest of the time.
If Jones plays like a solid starting goalie in the 2015-16 NHL season, the Sharks make their postseason return. If he plays like he did the only other time he was a starting NHL goalie—albeit for less than a month—they will contend for the Stanley Cup.
Jones won the first eight games he played to tie the NHL record—albeit with the help of two shootouts that would have been ties for record-holder Bob Froese. He had a 0.98 goals-against average (GAA) and .966 save percentage (sv%), but has actually been mediocre since: 8-11-2 with a 2.34 GAA and .906 sv%.
However, Jones ceased to play regularly and that can affect one’s production. His ninth start broke the streak just two days later, but even with mop-up duty he has played in just 27 games including the Stanley Cup playoffs in almost 17 months since.
The Sharks thought enough of Jones to trade away a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and sign him to a three-year, $9 million contract. With other upgrades, they get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs if he plays even as well as Niemi initially.
San Jose could live with Jones taking time to settle into the role of a franchise goalie, but it needs to know he can be the guy by the end of the 2015-16 NHL season. Former highly-touted prospect Alex Stalock has not been impressive in over a year and seems destined for free agency next summer.
Goalie is one of the position battles the Sharks seem to lose in every Stanley Cup-playoff elimination. If Jones reaches the elite level he has shown potential for, they might have a chance to be competitive after the second round.