The Curious Case of Alex Stalock

The Sharks need goaltender Alex Stalock to bounce back this season, but should it be expected?

Alex Stalock enters the final year of a two-year deal he signed last offseason on much more precarious footing than the first. Last season, Stalock entered camp challenging for the starter's role after exceeding expectations in 2013-14. But following a down year, and with younger options ahead of (Martin Jones) and behind him (Troy Grosenick) in net, Stalock's future with the Sharks is very much up in the air.

Stalock struggled mightily last season. After posting an impressive 93.2% of the shots he faced the previous season, his save percentage dropped significantly over the 2014-15 campaign, stopping a below-average 90.2% of the shots he faced. Of the 66 goalies who played 400 minutes last season, Stalock's save percentage ranked 55th. While many called for the Sharks to part ways with Antti Niemi, Stalock's performance arguably had a bigger impact on the Sharks missing the postseason for the first time in a decade.

To some extent, Stalock's step back should have been expected, based on his numbers in the AHL. AHL save percentage is often a strong indicator of future NHL performance. Stalock only stopped 90.7% of the 3939 AHL shots, which doesn't bode well for his long-term success. While this is likely the main culprit behind Stalock's drop-off, a deeper look at his numbers over the last two seasons reveals that a decline in his save percentage on the penalty kill significantly lowered his save percentage.

Stalock's save percentage on the penalty kill cratered last season. In shorthanded situations, Stalock stopped 81.25% of the shots he faced, after stopping 94% the previous season. Had he stopped shorthanded shots at the same clip as he has in his NHL career at even strength (92.16%), he would have stopped 91.3% of shots in all situations last season, or right around league average.In fact, it's a decent bet that his penalty kill save percentage will bounce back next season, as penalty kill save percentage often varies wildly from year-to-year.

If Stalock can't improve upon last season's performance, the Sharks will need to look elsewhere to find Martin Jones' backup. They could first look within the organization. Troy Grosenick, who had a brief, yet memorable stint with the Sharks last season, is next in line behind Stalock. Since Grosenick's a one-way deal next season, the Sharks could just let Stalock's contract expire next July 1 if he doesn't improve. But, Grosenick's career save percentage in the AHL (90.4%) is even lower than Stalock's, meaning he's not a safe bet to be an upgrade.

The Sharks could look to acquire another goalie via trade, such as 2016 UFA James Reimer. With just over $1,000,000 in cap space according to General Fanager, however, the Sharks would most most likely have to send another contract back the other way, in addition to draft picks and/or prospects that they may not be willing to trade.

With a lack of readily available alternatives, it's crucial to the Sharks' success and Stalock's future with the team that he bounces back this season. The Sharks don't need Stalock to be a whiskey-drinking, vodka-chasing legend, but they do need him to improve upon last season, especially considering Jones shouldn't be expected to be a massive upgrade over Antti Niemi. Some improvement is likely, particularly if his save percentage on the penalty kill regresses closer to league average. But, Stalock's AHL save percentage suggests that a league-average performance may be too much to ask.

Stalock's future in San Jose is on the line, but a bounce-back season could go a long way towards ensuring he remains a Shark, and more importantly, that the Sharks return to the postseason.