Have you lost faith in Martin Jones? If you have, I don’t blame you.
Jones, after all, is tied with Jonathan Quick for the worst Save Percentage (.896) among all NHL starting goaltenders over the last two seasons. That’s well below the league-average .905.
You can argue that Jones has been the worst starting goaltender in the league over the last two years.
However, this didn’t stop ex-San Jose Sharks goaltending coach Johan Hedberg from declaring to San Jose Hockey Now last week that Jones “could definitely be a Vezina Trophy winner in any given season, given the right circumstances.”
Safe to say, this was a roundly-derided soundbite:
— Manny (@mannyelk) July 20, 2020
Consider this though: Goaltending performance can be very volatile from year to year. And if we believe Hedberg’s assertion that the 30-year-old Jones hasn’t lost anything physically or mentally, maybe San Jose Sharks fans can start to believe in him again.
Not that they have much choice — Jones is signed for four more seasons at $5.75 million dollars per. It’s hard to imagine the Sharks being able to trade or buy out Jones either.
So instead, let’s count down five other San Jose Sharks netminders who have bounced back after a bad year (or two).
Can Jones rebound like these goalies?
5) Ed Belfour
When the Sharks acquired pending UFA Belfour on January 25, 1997, they were three points out of the post-season and thought they were adding one of the best goaltenders in the league to their playoff chase.
San Jose, however, finished 19 points out. Belfour went just 3-9-0 before a bulging disc in his back ended his season early. In the two-time Vezina Trophy winner’s Bay Area sojourn, his .884 was the fifth-worst Save Percentage in the NHL (among 36 goaltenders, 10+ games).
Regardless, GM Dean Lombardi wanted Belfour back. But Eddie the Eagle had different ideas, flying away to Dallas for less money.
“Benedict Belfour” was a sign seen when the Stars came to San Jose Arena the next season. Former Sharks teammate Bernie Nicholls sniped, “I felt sorry for our management because they treated Eddie pretty well and (he) had no intention of staying here.” (McKeon, Ross. “Sharks’ fans want a piece of Belfour.” Red Deer Advocate, April 24, 1998.)
Based on results, however, you can’t argue with Belfour’s decision. Blessed with better health and behind a much-stronger defense, Belfour would burnish his Hall of Fame credentials in Big D. From 1997-2001, Belfour was second in the league with 139 wins. He also hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1999.
4) Miikka Kiprusoff
It’s actually a testament to Kiprusoff’s talent that the San Jose Sharks were able to extract a second-round pick for him in November 2003.
“Miikka Kiprusoff for a second-round draft pick? Not THE Miikka Kiprusoff? With the 3.25 goals-against average? And a 5-14 record last year? That Miikka Kiprusoff?” Bruce Dowbiggin opined. “Apparently Darryl Sutter thinks he’s a No. 1 NHL goalie. Oh….” (Dowbiggin, Bruce. “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Calgary Herald, November 17, 2003.)
Dowbiggin forgot to mention Kiprusoff’s .879 Save Percentage, second-worst in NHL in 2002-03 (of 52 goalies, 20+ games).
In each of the next three seasons, Kiprusoff was a Vezina finalist, taking top honors in 2005-06.
3) Evgeni Nabokov
Who better than Martin Jones’s goaltending coach to show him the way?
In February 2006, pending UFA Nabokov thought he was set in the Bay Area, inking a four-year, $21.5 million dollar contract. But the Russian couldn’t shake an abdominal injury after the Olympics, opening the door for back-up Vesa Toskala. Toskala started 22 of the season’s last 29 games, going 18-2-2. On the opening night of the playoffs, it was Toskala between the pipes, Nabokov on the bench.
That year, Nabokov suffered the worst single-season Save Percentage of his San Jose career (.885). It was his only year in teal under .900.
Nabokov or Toskala was one of the biggest storylines in hockey heading into the next season. The Russian re-gained control of the starting job, raising his Save Percentage to .914.
In June 2007, Toskala was sent to Toronto, making Nabokov the clear-cut No. 1 again. From 2007-10, Nabokov won 131 games for San Jose, 12 more than any other keeper in the league.
2) Jeff Hackett
San Jose won just 11 games in 1992-93; Hackett won two of them.
That’s the good news.
Hackett also lost 30 games, a 2-30-1 record. That .061 Winning Percentage was the second-worst in NHL history (15+ games), trailing only Michel Belhumeur’s 0-24-3 in 1974-75.
“It was depressing as hell. We were not an NHL hockey club,” Hackett acknowledged. “My stats were horrible, but I knew I wasn’t that bad.” (Markus, Robert. “Blackhawks ‘backup’ goalie finally proves he can hack it.” Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1996.)
You’d think one win for every 15 losses would ruin a 24-year-old goalie’s confidence. However, Hackett found a new lease on life in Chicago, where he was traded for a third-round pick in July 1993.
Three years later, Hackett played in San Jose for the first time since he was traded, stopping 29 shots to lead the Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory.
“A goalie’s only as good as the team he’s playing on,” Hackett said after the win. “I don’t think Jeff Hackett has gone from being the worst to the best in the league.” (Associated Press, February 4, 1996.)
From 1995-00, Hackett’s 77.9 Goals Saved Above Average was fifth in the league, behind only Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Guy Hebert, and Martin Brodeur.
1) Arturs Irbe
Of course, Jones hasn’t suffered just one nightmare year, like the aforementioned goaltenders.
But as Irbe proved, never count out a good goalie.
The 26-year-old was the toast of South Bay in 1994, leading the third-year San Jose Sharks to one win away from the Western Conference Finals.
But while training that summer, Irbe broke a finger in his right hand and severed an artery in his left hand when his dog bit him.
“The injury had a devastating effect,” Roy MacGregor wrote. “Those around him saw he had trouble gripping his stick properly.” (McGregor, Roy. “‘The Wall’ in the Way of the Cup.” National Post, May 18, 2002).
In the following post-season, Irbe lost the starting job to Wade Flaherty. But he still hadn’t hit rock-bottom yet.
In 1995-96, Irbe registered the worst season of his career, his .860 Save Percentage dead last in the league (20+ games).
San Jose cut ties. Irbe would move on to Dallas and Vancouver. It appeared the once-budding star was now a journeyman.
However, in 1998, Carolina gave him a shot. By then, the 31-year-old said the nerve damage in both hands had healed.
From 1998-01, the plucky Latvian tied Brodeur with 214 games played. In 2002, he took the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Everything plays in,” Hedberg told us last week, when discussing whether it was team or goalie responsible for Jones’s rising goals against.
He’s right, of course. Now let’s see if the San Jose Sharks and Martin Jones can prove that there’s life after .896.
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