In Martin Jones, Sharks have the 25-year-old starter they coveted
They paid a hefty price to get him but there are many reasons to think Jones was one of the best long-term bets on this summer's goalie market.
Back in February, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Sharks were "looking for a 25-year-old goalie who can play for a few years for them." Keeping in mind he likely meant the team was looking for someone in that range rather than that specific age, there didn't appear to be many available goaltenders who were exactly 25 apart from the likes of Antti Raanta and Jacob Markstrom who were third on their respective teams' depth charts at the time.
Except, of course, for Martin Jones. It seemed unthinkable that the Kings would trade their 25-year-old backup, who had posted dominant numbers during a brief 2013-14 stint while Jonathan Quick was injured, to their biggest rival. Sure the Sharks could have potentially signed him to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent but L.A. would have probably found a way to match if out of spite alone. Four months later, and after a bizarre layover in Boston, Jones has made his way up the west coast.
"Martin was at the top of our list of players that we had targeted," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said today after acquiring the 6'4" netminder for a 2016 1st round pick and Sean Kuraly. "We're extremely excited to have him on board."
They should be. Jones is fairly unproven at the NHL level, although it's worth noting his .923 career NHL SV% ranks 4th among goalies who have faced at least 800 shots since 2005. His .913 SV% on high-danger shots is also the best among all netminders since he entered the league.
It's Jones' AHL track record, though, that suggests he's more than capable of being a big-league starter. Jones' .921 SV% over nearly 5,000 shots with Manchester was better than that of other unproven goalies who were on the market this summer like Cam Talbot (.915 AHL SV%) and Robin Lehner (.919 AHL SV%) and on par with Eddie Lack, who also posted a .921 in the AHL. It's also far better than the .908 SV% Jones' new backup in Alex Stalock managed in Worcester.
High-end AHL performance isn't necessarily a guarantee of NHL success (just ask the aforementioned Markstrom), but Jones' play in Manchester suggests his NHL performance to date is a closer reflection of his true ability than, say, Talbot's gaudy numbers with the Rangers are.
A first-round pick is certainly a steep price to pay for an unproven goalie but the market was set by Buffalo coughing one up for Lehner and, given Jones' slightly superior AHL performance and Lehner's concerning concussion history, there's a strong argument to be made that Jones is the better bet. Compared to Talbot, who was dealt to Edmonton for a second rounder and a third, Jones is 25 and under team control for multiple seasons whereas Talbot will turn 28 in a week and become a UFA in a year. Given the difference in their AHL performances, it also seems more likely Talbot's NHL numbers were a small-sample fluke.
There's certainly risk inherent in the price the Sharks paid to acquire Jones and in going into next season with two goaltenders who have started 66 combined games. But Jones' youth, size, minor league excellence and NHL success in a small sample made him as good a bet to be a long-term starter as any of the goalies who were realistically available via trade this summer. This is a gamble, but it's a calculated one, and there are a lot of reasons to think it will pay off for the Sharks.