The San Jose Sharks closed out the NHL Trade Deadline with one final depth trade that sort of solves the problem of having too many goaltenders. Alexei Melnichuk, the 23-year-old netminder who debuted for the Sharks last season, was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for center Antoine Morand. Both players have spent this season with their respective AHL clubs.
Melnichuk has had his fair share of struggles this season, but when put in the context of being a younger player who is still relatively new to North America, playing behind an at-times abysmal San Jose Barracuda roster, well ... it’s a bit more excusable. But with goaltending depth a priority at the deadline in light of the ongoing injury struggles with James Reimer and Adin Hill, it’s not surprising that the Sharks had to move someone.
Melnichuk had yet to appear in an NHL game this season, instead playing 31 games with the Barracuda, posting a 3.92 goals-against average and .867 save percentage. In his last three starts, Melnichuk made 93 saves and allowed 11 goals against, for a .894 save percentage.
Antoine Morand is also 23 years old, and hasn’t spent much time in the NHL either, considering he still has yet to make his regular-season NHL debut (he did play in Tampa’s preseason games, however). Morand has played 44 AHL games with the Syracuse Crunch this season, posting 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists). He’s netted one goal in his past 10 games and is expected to be an AHL depth piece.
When it comes to evaluating the trade, it’s difficult to tell if the Sharks could have pulled more from the Lightning in exchange for Melnichuk, given what the goaltending market is like, the Lightning’s own cap constraints and Melnichuk’s lackluster performance. However, the three goaltenders for the Crunch aren’t faring much better than Melnichuk this season, and should the Bolts need a third-string netminder come playoffs, at least they’ll have one with some NHL experience. It’s a back-up plan with a quick expiration.
Both players are on entry-level contracts in the $900k range, set to become restricted free agents this summer. With the crowd in the crease pipeline, and Zach Sawchenko already beating out Melnichuk for the third-string role with the big club this season, it seemed likely that San Jose would either try to move him, or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent without a qualifying offer.
The move gives Tampa Bay goaltender insurance, and if they let Morand walk this summer, the Sharks will at least get cap and contract relief from the deal, plus a couple thousand dollars in savings from the differences in contract structures for the remainder of the season.