Missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2003 clearly does not sit well with the San Jose Sharks. Logan Couture described the fan and player view to The Hockey News very simply Friday, July 24: “It really sucks.”
Couture pointed to a golf outing with San Jose’s most-recently deposed captain, Joe Thornton. The two of them talked about how much hungrier they were for not playing since April 11.
Hunger is something that the Sharks have been accused Couture also said he took the moves to add veteran right-winger Joel Ward and blue-liner Paul Martin as a vote of confidence from his general manager: “I think we have the core to win, and (Doug Wilson) went out and got some very good players.”
Ultimately, it will all hinge on Martin Jones. “It” could be interpreted as San Jose being successful in the 2015-16 NHL season or Wilson keeping his job.
Despite assembling a team that has had the second-best regular-season record in his tenure with the second-longest active streak of postseason appearances only ending this spring, Wilson has been feeling the heat. Even if he had the revelation the Sharks were too flawed to make the franchise’s fourth Western Conference finals (all in his tenure) and wanted to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs to take advantage of one of the richest drafts in years, the 2015-16 NHL season will need to be successful for him to keep his job.
He made sure of that when he signed Jones. By giving up a first-round draft pick in the also highly-rated 2016 NHL entry draft, he is betting on winning now. That is a risk someone hungry to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs is willing to take.
If San Jose misses again, that means Wilson gave up one of the first 14 picks for someone unable to play even as well as Antti Niemi did last season. Only Jonathan Bernier, Kari Lehtonen and Mike Smith had a lower save percentage (Sv%) or goals-against average (GAA) among the 17 goalies with at least 55 starts in the 2014-15 NHL season.
If Jones is capable of even duplicating Niemi’s 61-start season, the additions of Ward and Martin make up the nine points the Sharks fell short of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. If Wilson gets his anticipated upgrade, he has likely found his franchise goalie and has fielded a team capable of returning to the Western Conference finals. That is easily worth what would be a mid-to-late first-round pick and three-year, $9 million contract.
The problem is that as well-accepted as his talent is, Jones is unproven. He has only played in 34 regular-season NHL games and has only faced seven shots in his Stanley Cup-playoff career.
In fact, he was not even a spectacular AHL goalie when he first became the backup for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013-14 NHL season. While Jones broke into the league with a record-tying eight consecutive victories, he has been inconsistent since.
That he has played just 56 games over the last two seasons can be viewed as a positive or a negative. He has not played enough to get into a groove, but he has also handled more than 41 games over a season just once after juniors and was an unimpressive 27-25-4 with a .919 Sv% and 2.53 GAA in that AHL season.
Kevin Woodley also outlined on the league website how hunger for a chance to start is also making Jones excited about coming to San Jose Thursday. The challenge for new head coach Peter DeBoer and the eventual captain he told 95.7 The Game Thursday would be chosen by the 2015-16 NHL season is to maintain and channel that hunger into success against the stiff competition in the Western Conference.