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Winning Play: Should Sharks add goalie?

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Dec 9, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) congratulates goalie Aaron Dell (30) after winning the game against the Ottawa Senators during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the San Jose Sharks played okay in a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Tied at two apiece after 40 minutes, San Jose appeared to be in some control:

Then, Evander Kane was whistled for a double-minor high stick on Nick Bjugstad. Then, Florida scored on both minors to put the game away.

“You feel for Kaner. It’s not an undisciplined penalty. Chips the puck by the guy, catches him with a stick,” Pete DeBoer offered. “At that point, we need a big kill, we need a big save. We didn’t get either.”

Not to bury Martin JonesJoe Pavelski lost a draw clean to Aleksander Barkov on Keith Yandle’s power play goal, while Radim Simek whiffed on the clear before Vincent Trocheck’s following strike — but the Sharks certainly could’ve used a big save in another in a string of lopsided defeats.

This was the third straight game that the Sharks had given up six or more goals.

This isn’t all on Jones, as Aaron Dell started Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, but Jones has certainly shown better.

Jones is second to last in the league with an .8971 Save Percentage and a -12.2 Goals Saved Above Average (of 35 goalies, 1000+ minutes at 5-on-5). Among regular netminders, he’s 29th with a .7717 High-danger Save Percentage.

Jones is on pace to be just the fifth starting keeper since 2007-08 to record a sub-.900 Save Percentage at 5-on-5.

Of course, there are good reasons to ride it out with Jones.

Since Dec. 2, Jones has registered a 13-4-1 record, along with a .911 Save Percentage and a -2.04 GSAA at 5-on-5. These aren’t outstanding underlying stats, but he’s trending upwards.

Jones has also been a post-season star. Since 2015-16, he’s seen the third-most playoff games (40), behind Pekka Rinne (49) and Braden Holtby (47). He’s managed to maintain the second-best playoff Save Percentage (.9376) at 5-on-5 in the NHL (of 28 goalies, 500+ minutes at 5-on-5). He’s also the only netminder to boast a double-digit GSAA (14.15) at 5-on-5 in this period of time.

This doesn’t mean Doug Wilson should be satisfied with his goaltending, even if he appears to be.

“I don’t care who’s in net,” Wilson told The Athletic two weeks ago. “I do know we like our goaltending.”

Considering Wilson’s investment in Jones — a first-round pick traded for him in 2015 and a six-year extension inked in 2017 — and the aforementioned pay-off, especially in the post-season, Wilson definitely backs Jones.

But what about Dell?

After consecutive solid-to-spectacular seasons as back-up, Dell has suffered a difficult third year, especially recently.

Since he pitched back-to-back shutouts in November, Dell has registered a league-worst .858 Save Percentage (of 51 goalies, 10+ appearances). This is over seven starts, and of course, it’s unfair to judge anybody based on such a small sample size.

That said, Dell’s difficulties echo his predecessor’s, Alex Stalock. Like Dell, Stalock struggled in his third season as Sharks back-up. In response, Wilson traded Stalock, Ben Smith and a third-round draft pick for James Reimer and Jeremy Morin on February 26, 2016. At the time, this appeared to be a somewhat curious trade, because Jones had clearly established himself as San Jose’s number-one, while Reimer was regarded as at least a 1A.

“We’re just in a window right now,” Wilson said then of an aging Sharks squad trying to squeeze out another playoff run. “It’s the stretch run, we gotta be on all cylinders, be ready for the season after that.”

Sound familiar?

Reimer certainly helped San Jose fire on all cylinders during the stretch run, going 6-2 with three shutouts. He made just one post-season appearance during the march to the Stanley Cup Final, but regardless, it was a more-than-satisfactory trade.

Going back to Dell, his third-year stats resemble Stalock’s San Jose output:

So would it make some sense for Wilson to pursue a Reimer-like upgrade to the back-up position?

For a number of reasons, yes:

Cup or Bust

Everybody knows that San Jose isn’t the youngest team. There’s also no telling how long UFAs like Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski will remain with the team. So it’s certainly a “win now” campaign. In that case, being deep in every position is prudent.

Asking Price

Using Reimer as an example, goaltending is an area where you can add a potential impact performer at a minimal cost.

For the Sharks, missing first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, this might be their best opportunity to add something meaningful around the margins.

While you’re not going to pick up a Sergei Bobrovsky on the cheap, Jimmy Howard might be such an addition.

There may not be a hot market for a rental goalie — except for Calgary or Minnesota, most playoff contenders look content with their one-two punch. Also, last-place Detroit should be motivated to move 34-year-old UFA Howard.

Besides Howard, UFA keepers with recent number-one experience like Cam Talbot or Petr Mrazek or Brian Elliott could also be had for a presumably low price. These aren’t exciting choices, but would provide valuable depth.

Experienced Depth

If Jones gets hurt or falters, veteran netminders like Howard, Talbot and Elliott have enjoyed strong post-season performances in the past.

While there’s no guarantee that any of these options will shore up the position — goaltending, in small sample sizes, is tremendously volatile, so Dell, for all we know, is about to reel off a ten-game winning streak — acquiring a veteran keeper could be a smart move at the right cost.