As of this week, starting goaltender Martin Jones is on pace to start 68 games. That would tie for the fourth-highest mark in franchise history, and match Antti Niemi’s total from 2011-12.
That would be Jones’ career-high dating back to his days in junior, and surpass the mark he set last season (65). That total put Jones in rare air among Sharks goaltenders, but also among starting goaltenders to appear in the Stanley Cup Final since 2007-08.
Of the 16 Stanley Cup Final-appearing goaltenders to play in a full (read: lockout-less) season in the “Corsi era”, only two have started 65 or more regular season games: Martin Jones and Jonathan Quick. Six (Jones, Quick, Ben Bishop, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, and Marc-Andre Fleury) started 60 or more games.
Four of those six goaltenders, including Jones, backstopped a losing team in the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, of the eight Stanley Cup champions that played an 82-game season since 2007-08, seven started 55 or less games, while four started less than 50.
Admittedly, this is an imperfect sample. In many of those seasons, injuries (Quick in 2013-14), performance (Niemi in 2009-10), and age (Osgood in 2007-08), or a combination of all three factors prevented the eventual Cup champions from giving their starter a full workload.
Plus, it intentionally limits the pool of potential goaltenders to gauge the potential effects of a heavy workload. But, for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations like the Sharks, these numbers are instructive, and provides evidence that Jones is starting too much.
Jones could very well buck the trend once again, but the fact remains that the vast majority of recent Stanley Cup and conference-winning starting goaltenders did not start as much as Jones is on pace to this season. Knowing this, and considering Aaron Dell’s performance this season, the Sharks’ usage of Jones is head-scratching.
Dell, so far, has proven more than capable of easing Jones’ load. Among goalies that have played at least 500 minutes, Dell leads all goaltenders in even strength save percentage.
Not only has Dell himself played well enough to warrant more playing time, but the Sharks have seen what a relatively rested Jones can do.
As The Hockey Writers’ Zachary Devine pointed out in a piece last month, all of James Reimer’s eight starts with the Sharks came in a 32-day span. It’s difficult to fully determine what effect it had on Jones’ postseason performance, but the postseason was arguably his best stretch in teal.
It’s unlikely the Sharks will split time with Dell and Jones down the stretch, given his usage so far. But, the Sharks can start Dell in just seven of the team’s remaining 22 games, and match Jones’ workload from last season.
The Sharks sit firmly in a playoff spot, and have a backup goaltender good enough to play more and help the Sharks fend off Edmonton in their pursuit of home-ice advantage for the playoff’s first two rounds. Given what we have seen from recent starting goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Final, and from Jones following rest down the stretch, the Sharks should ease the burden on their starter.
There are plenty of recent goalies that have started less games than Jones is on pace to, and have failed to make the Stanley Cup Final. But, there aren’t many that started as many games as Jones is set to and made it all the way, either.