Starting Martin Jones the Right Call

For the San Jose Sharks, starting Martin Jones is the right call in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jones now has a full season of experience and has played well for the Sharks. But in reality, there is no other option. The Sharks issues in net have been on-going and trace back to the team’s previous starting goaltender, Antti Niemi.

Niemi’s inability to step-up his game in the Stanley Cup playoffs was evident over the years. In four trips to the playoffs with the Sharks, Antti Niemi posted a woeful .905 SV%. During the Sharks meltdown against the Kings in 2014, Niemi was especially dismal. His .884 SV% was second-worst of any goalie who started at least four games in the postseason. When the Sharks failed to make the playoffs at the conclusion of the following season, changes were coming. The Sharks allowed Niemi to leave via free agency, even trading his rights to Dallas on the eve of his contract expiring.

On June 30, 2015, the Sharks traded their 2016 first-round draft pick and prospect Sean Kuraly to the Boston Bruins, who in an earlier trade acquired Jones from the Los Angles Kings. General Manager Doug Wilson immediately exhibited his belief in young Jones with a three-year, $9 million contract, signed that very day.

In the span of less than a week, Jones, 26, went from a restricted free agent back-up who spent his entire career with the L.A. Kings to part of a goaltender logjam in Boston to San Jose. And now he was the Sharks first new starting goaltender in five years with a new multi-year contract.

The Sharks went all-in with Jones to start the season, with back-up Alex Stalock the only fallback if Jones faltered. Again showing the Sharks commitment to Jones and his capability to shoulder the workload. During the regular season, new head coach Peter DeBoer turned to Jones early and often. Jones started 65 games for San Jose. Jones’ solid play for the Sharks helped the club to a team record 27 road victories and a postseason birth. His statistics were solid overall, and the team played well in front of him. But when Stalock got the start in net, both he and the team in front of him struggled. Wilson made a bold move to bring in James Reimer to add veteran depth and insurance on the nights when Jones needed rest.

Reimer only started eight games for the Sharks, but his impact was immediate. His 6-2 record, 1.62 goals against average with three shutouts made many wonder if a much-feared goalie controversy was brewing in San Jose. But DeBoer put those fear to rest, even if temporarily, by announcing that Jones would be the starter to open the series in Los Angeles.

One might question just how long the Sharks will stick with Jones with a highly capable Reimer available to them and the team’s window to contend for a Stanley Cup closing quickly. Patrick Marleau’s production is quickly falling off, and free agent signees Paul Martin and Joel Ward, while performing well in their first year in teal filling key roles, are nearing the end of their careers. Even Joe Thornton, who at 36 had his best point production in five years and played perhaps the most well-rounded hockey of his career, has only one year left on his current contract.

Despite this, the Sharks must start Jones as he is the goalie both for this year and presumably the next handful of years at least. Starting Reimer, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and will likely sign elsewhere, would be a signal to Jones and the rest of the team that he is not entirely capable of being a starting goaltender. To bench Jones before he has even played a single playoff game for San Jose would damage his confidence this year and beyond.

Those are all future concerns at this time of the season when only the present is important. In Jones, the Sharks have shown commitment and faith at every turn, and it must continue. In return, San Jose would like to see a return on the investment of faith and trust put in Jones, starting tonight against his former club.

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