The draft has now come and gone for the San Jose Sharks. Enter July 1. Up north it’s celebrated as a federal holiday, and known as Canada Day. How fitting that the NHL’s free agency window would first open on the same day.
Sharks fans have gotten used to years and years of mediocrity on the celebrated day. Previous signings have been those of John Scott, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White and Scott Hannan. These were all players general manager Doug Wilson had opted to sign on the first day of free agency. These are not players you should have anywhere near your radar so soon.
So I assume it’s safe for me to say that everyone else might have been as surprised as I was to see how productive Wilson has treated the last few days as responsibly as he has. And by responsible, I mean the Sharks have improved. Significantly.
Whenever you’re building a hockey team, it’s always wise to start from the net and work your way out. After trading veteran starting goaltender Antti Niemi, it was necessary for Wilson to go out and find someone to fill the role. After trading a 2016 first-round pick, and prospect Sean Kuraly, the Sharks found their man.
Former LA Kings backup Martin Jones was acquired from the Boston Bruins who traded for him on Friday. Jones is a goalie who carries several attractive traits for Sharks fans to take notice of. If you go based off pure stats, Jones has compiled a record of 16-11-12, a 1.99 GAA, .923 save percentage and seven shutouts in 34 NHL games played. His AHL statistics are just as impressive. He racked up a record of 84-57-10, 2.42 GAA, .920 save percentage, 12 shutouts and two all star selections. Apparently, Jones is a player the Sharks have had their eyes on. Wilson commented on the trade by saying, “Martin was at the top of our list of players that we had targeted. We’re extremely excited to have him on board.”
Certainly, the Sharks won’t look to automatically hand Jones the starting job. Homegrown goalie Alex Stalock still has one year remaining on his current contract, and the job will be immediately thrown up for grabs as soon as training camp begins. When asked about his feelings on potentially becoming the full-time starting goalie for team teal, Jones had this to say:
“Ultimately, that’s the goal, to be able to go somewhere and play. Wherever I was at, I was going to work hard in practice and push for more ice time. I’m going to get that opportunity here and I’m going to go into camp and earn every start that I get.”
If nothing else, it seems Jones has already received a stamp of approval of sorts, inking a fresh three-year, $9 million contract just before he was set to become an unrestricted free-agent.
The issues of addressing the Sharks goalie situation was of the most obvious, if their was another area of improvement fans and media alike could agree the team needs help, it would be the blue line.
Enter Paul Martin.
The Sharks signed the veteran free-agent to a four-year, $19.4 million contract Wednesday. This could possibly be the smartest deal Wilson has made since the team acquired forward Raffi Torres two seasons ago.
Martin is known for his strong skating abilities, smart puck movement and being the quarterback of the penalty-kill for one of the league’s most talented rosters in Pittsburgh. Last season, Martin was second on the Penguins for total time spent on the ice and led a defense that was without it’s top caliber player in Kris Letang. One of the most underrated stats in Martin’s 74 games played last season, was that he had just 20 penalty minutes. This means you can count on him being on the ice, doing his job.
One of Martin’s key jobs could be that of providing an appropriate defensive partner for All Star Brent Burns. After spending some extraordinary time skating as a forward, Burns had what could be described as a bumpy return to defense. Head coach Peter DeBoer, fresh off his assistant coaching gig for Canada at the IIHF World Championships, commented on the idea of Martin and Burns playing together at the blue line:
“I thought [Hamhuis] really supported and helped Burnzie with his game,” DeBoer said. “I see Paul Martin being able to slide in there and have that same effect. … That’s my initial thought on it.”
On a conference call shortly after the signing became official, Martin revealed that San Jose was one of his preferred destinations at this point in his career. The veteran has never won a Stanley Cup, but has also never missed the postseason in the 10 seasons he’s spent at the NHL level. Speaking about the players the Sharks already have in place, Martin said, “I like the core group of guys that they have here, and I know quite a few of them already, so I think that will help.” He does spend his summers in his native Minnesota training with Justin Braun, Alex Stalock, and even Brent Burns. Besides the players he spends his offseason’s with, and the core he has an idea of, he’s also spent time skating alongside Joe Pavelski in the Olympics:
“I’m a big fan of [Pavelski]. Obviously a big competitor, a goal scorer, works hard. He’s a big part of the team here, and I’m looking forward to playing with him again.”
The most enjoyable of Martin’s comments might come off as the most obvious, but it sounded good to hear some fire in his voice when he said, “The most important thing is to win.”
After the signings of Martin Jones, Melker Karlsson, Brendan Dillon and Paul Martin, the Sharks have just around $5 million worth a cap space left. No teams work is ever done, and after the dysfunctional season the Sharks had on the ice and in the locker room last season, it’s very nice to see them bring in a solid character veteran that can still play the game at an elite level. It seems the Sharks are now trending in the proper direction, and after all the dust settled, Wilson hinted that more moves could be coming by saying, “there’s a long way between now and September, and there’s a long way between September and the trade deadline.”