The thing about rolling the dice on an unproven goalie is that you can look really foolish if it doesn’t work out.
That’s the risk Doug Wilson took when he bet on Martin Jones. Fortunately for the Sharks’ general manager, it’s looking like a great wager these days.
Seven games into the playoffs and Jones is 6-1 with a .923 save percentage. The 26-year-old has been especially good against the Predators. He was named first star in Game 2, a 3-2 San Jose victory that gave the Sharks a 2-0 series lead.
Jones, you’ll recall, was acquired in an offseason trade with the Bruins. The Sharks gave up a first-round draft pick and a prospect to get their man, whom they immediately signed to a three-year, $9 million contract.
At the time, Jones had only started 29 games in the NHL. He was slated to battle Alex Stalock — another relatively inexperienced guy — for the starting job in San Jose.
“I think I’m ready to definitely take that step and play more hockey games,” Jones said. “I had a great two years in L.A. learning from Jonathan Quick. It’s been a big couple of years in my development and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”
Make no mistake, it was a big risk for Wilson to bet on such an inexperienced tandem. If the Sharks had missed the playoffs again this year, who knows what would’ve happened in San Jose?
But while goaltending remains arguably the most important position in hockey, recent history shows it doesn’t take an experienced, big-money netminder to win. Quick had a $1.8 million cap hit when he won his first Stanley Cup with the Kings. Corey Crawford‘s cap hit was just under $3 million when he won his first Cup with the Blackhawks, who had Antti Niemi and his sub-$1 million salary in goal when they won in 2010.
Quick and Crawford have both signed big deals since. But the temptation for frugality remains, thanks to a seemingly endless supply of quality netminders. After all, the more cap space a team can save on its goalies, the more it can spend on its skaters.
The key, obviously, is picking the right horse. Choose poorly and it can be a disaster. That’s why some GMs will opt to pay a premium for experience. Track records can be comforting. Youngsters, on the other hand, can buckle under the weight of expectations.
So far, Jones has handled the postseason pressure like a veteran, and he’s a big reason why the Sharks are two wins from reaching the Western Conference Final.