Sharks

Has Sharks' Aaron Dell surpassed Martin Jones as team's No. 1 goalie?

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AP

Has Sharks' Aaron Dell surpassed Martin Jones as team's No. 1 goalie?

The Sharks were supposed to have a relatively simple goaltending tandem entering this season. Martin Jones would continue as the starter, with Aaron Dell serving as the very capable backup.  

So long as the Sharks could be predictable without the puck, everything would be fine.

But now more than halfway through the regular season, there are a lot more complications and questions than clear-cut answers. So, how exactly do we describe San Jose's current goalie situation with Jones and Dell?

Let’s first establish every possible definition, and then evaluate where the Sharks have been.

conversation: When the goalie playing less is earning more opportunities.
competition: No clear-cut No. 1, auditions are on full display.
controversy: The goalie playing less is playing better, but not playing more.
conundrum: Both goalies not playing well, with no obvious alternatives.
combination: Your No. 1 is playing like it, and your No. 2 is playing as such.

Which brings us to the Sharks' backstory. Most of last year's regular season was the combination scenario, with no questions of roles. Jones had the better campaign, and even after struggling in the first round of the playoffs, Pete DeBoer stuck with his starter and was handsomely rewarded in what remained. Martin Jones notably was solid for 17 of the 20 postseason games.

But the current season told a different story for San Jose’s tandem.  Especially during a four-win October and three-win December, we saw serious goalie conundrums and conversations emerge. Often, team defense didn’t make either netminder look sterling, but Dell certainly was a known commodity and provided the much-needed avenue to shake things up.

After DeBoer was relieved of his duties on Dec. 11, established roles went out the window, and it turned into a full-fledged goalie competition. As recently as Saturday, interim head coach Bob Boughner clarified as much: 

“I’m not anointing anybody a No. 1 at this point," he said. "I need both of them down the stretch.  And Dell right now, he’s winning games for us.”

Which brings us to the present, and that last sentence from Boughner.  Without official proclamation, maybe we’re actually back to a combination -- just one where Dell is the primary figure. He has allowed no more than three goals in each of his last nine starts and has proven an ability to make big saves, which likely instills the most confidence at this point. He’s also getting the prime assignments and opponents.

[RELATED: Sharks' late collapses continue in difficult loss vs. Caps]

Sharks fans haven’t endured a midseason changing of the guard in goal for many years now. But this journey through the calendar is different and might require extremes to compensate, whether they are declared official or not.

This, however, is not to suggest San Jose should give up on Jones. This is the first real adversity of his NHL career, and contractual obligations aside, it’s only prudent for the Sharks to see if a sidestep could help him take a big step forward.  

Getting back to a goalie controversy with Jones pushing Dell certainly wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario this spring.

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

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USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.