19 days from now, the San Jose Sharks will be down a player following the conclusion of the Expansion Draft. The Vegas Golden Knights should have a litany of compelling options to choose from in the Sharks system, particularly on the blueline.
We wrote about who the Sharks should protect last month, but the player they can least afford to lose is a player they can’t protect: backup goaltender Aaron Dell.
Dell’s first NHL season could not have gone better. He led all goaltenders that played at least 1000 minutes in even strength save percentage, and his .931 save percentage across all situations was the second-highest in franchise history among goaltenders that played in at least 20 games.
Unlike the franchise’s single-season leader in save percentage, Alex Stalock, Dell’s minor league numbers were solid, it’s thus a reasonable assumption his first NHL season was not a flash in the pan. But that’s part of what will make Dell so appealing to Vegas.
So, too, will his contract, as Dell is signed for just $625,000 next season. Vegas needs to reach the salary cap floor in the expansion draft, but the savings from selecting Dell could be used to splurge on a more expensive player.
The Golden Knights will have plenty of appealing options in net, which will likely include Antti Raanta, James Reimer, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Dell’s not as proven as most of Vegas’ options that have NHL experience, but few options offer a better value contract than Dell.
San Jose would have a difficult time replacing Dell internally. The Sharks have organizational depth to (at least partially) offset Vegas’ selection of a defenseman or a forward, but not in goal.
Barracuda starter and Baz Bastien award-winner Troy Grosenick is an unrestricted free agent, and will likely depart the organization. Mantas Armalis is a restricted free agent, but dropped to third on the Barracuda’s depth chart by the end of the season behind Clarke Saunders, who was signed from the ECHL midseason.
2013 and 2015 draft picks Fredrik Bergvik and Jake Kupsky posted save percentages below .900 in their respective seasons, and both seem far away from being NHL-ready. There are some intriguing free agent goaltenders available and worth taking a flyer on, but none of the options can be expected to play as well for as cheap as Dell.
Dell’s an intriguing option for Vegas for the same reasons he was so valuable this season in San Jose. He performed very well on a cheap contract, and offers significant savings in net that can be spent elsewhere on the roster.
Losing a defenseman or a forward will sting, but losing Dell would be the most painful possible outcome in the Expansion Draft. The last two seasons have shown how important it is to have reliable backup goaltending, and that’s a lesson the Sharks cannot afford to learn again.