Whenever the NHL season concludes, the Sharks will finish well below expectations.
The Sharks were last in the Pacific Division and Western Conference at the time of the league’s coronavirus suspension in March, less than a year after reaching the Conference final. Sure, San Jose lost wingers Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi in free agency, and the Sharks traded Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers.
But how did a team that still had Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line, plus Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane up front, miss the playoffs? Goaltender Martin Jones pointed to a lack of cohesion.
The Sharks know what is needed to right the ship. pic.twitter.com/3CYrhWDFFp— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) May 15, 2020
“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in his “31 Thoughts” column on Thursday. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”
The Sharks entered the year counting on a handful of rookies to make their mark, but only defenseman Mario Ferraro truly managed to stick in the lineup. San Jose entered December with a winning record (15-12-1) following a rocky start but won just 14 of the next 42 games as Jones and, to a lesser extent, backup Aaron Dell largely continued to struggle between the pipes.
Jones faced a comparable rate of quality 5-on-5 chances in 2019-20 as he did the previous season, but the Sharks no longer had the offensive firepower to compensate. Jones’ 5-on-5 save percentage (.892) was the worst among goalies who played at least 1,000 full-strength minutes this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, and San Jose (unsurprisingly) allowed more full-strength goals than every team but the Detroit Red Wings.
Could Jones’ workload have something to do with his decline over the last two seasons? As Friedman noted, no goalie has played in more regular-season and playoff games or played more minutes since Jones joined the Sharks in 2015-16. He might benefit from some time off, which he and the Sharks seem in line for.
The Sharks wouldn’t make the playoffs under a 16- or 24-team playoff format, and the NHL reportedly is considering going straight to the playoffs when this season resumes and starting the next one as late as November.
“Obviously, you want to play, and we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen,” Jones said. “But if you look back at the last few seasons, I’ve never had time in the summer to get in extended training. Being tired mentally is not something I like to admit. But a step back from the grind could be really good. I feel as motivated as I have in quite some time.”
Jones has a $5.75 million cap hit and a modified no-trade clause, so he’s likely going nowhere between now and next season.
The Sharks will need much better performances from him and everyone else on the roster next season. Jones seems to know how they can get out of him and his teammates.