The San Jose Sharks finished with their worst record since 2002-03 this year and failed to make the playoffs for just the fourth time since the turn of the century. It was a disastrous campaign for one of the most consistent organizations in all of pro sports, especially given the considerable talent that the club has on paper. The Sharks will do anything they can to find their way back to relevance next season – well, almost anything. They are not prepared to go the buyout route to remove their weakest link.
It’s unfair to ever blame on player for the struggles of an entire team. However, in San Jose this season it’s not a stretch to place the lion’s share of the guilt on starting goaltender Martin Jones. Eating up $5.75MM in salary cap space in 2019-20, Jones recorded a career-worst .896 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average. Among goaltenders who played in at least half of their team’s games, Jones ranked 29th out of 30 in both of these categories while recording a 17-21-2 record. What’s worse is that this was the second straight season that the 30-year-old showed significant decline and is signed for four more years with $21MM in salary and bonuses still owed to him.
Yet, the Sharks have made the decision not to buy out Jones’ contract. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz writes that no buyouts are expected from San Jose, whose only obvious candidate had been Jones. While this is a deep free agent class in goal and San Jose likely could have found replacements for both Jones and impending UFA backup Aaron Dell on the open market, the team will stick with Jones for at least another year. In the current financial climate in the NHL, it is very possible that the team did not feel comfortable playing Jones to not play for them this coming season and beyond. A buyout of Jones’ remaining four seasons would have cost the club $1.625MM in real dollars this year and in each of the following seven years, while the buyout would have counted for $2.875MM against the cap this season.
Jones’ poor play and equally poor contract means that the Sharks will very likely not be able to trade him this off-season. Kurz expects that he will be back in net next season, but assumes that he will have to challenge for the starting job with a free agent or trade acquisition. While San Jose may be wary to commit too much cap space to the goalie position, they do have over $14MM in space and look like one of the few free agent spenders in the impending market. With a number of talented options in goal to consider as a possible new starter, Jones’ performance may not be as much of a factor in San Jose’s attempts to return to the playoffs next year.