Declaring your team's most important player is not a simple thing. It's not always the most valuable guy or the highest points producer. It is the player who makes your team go, the one you can't afford to lose, even if all he contributes can't be measured by fancy stats.
Most Important Player: Martin Jones, Goaltender
Granted, you could name the starting goalie the most important player on every NHL team and probably be right, but in San Jose, it’s an especially interesting scenario because Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is betting so heavily on a 25-year-old goalie with just 29 starts.
Wilson was working the goalie trade market even before the trade deadline, so he had a really good feel for who was available and just what the asking price would be. That he picked Jones in a deal that cost the Sharks a 2016 first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly shows just how much he thinks of the young goaltender. The three-year, $9 million contract Jones signed further highlighted that faith.
The question now becomes: Is Jones the real deal?
The Kings believed in Jones internally. They saw him as a future NHL starter. Dealing him to the Boston Bruins (who spun him to the Sharks) had more to do with his coming pay raise and the fact that starter Jonathan Quick will be entrenched in the Kings' net for years to come.
At 6-foot-4, Jones has the size you want for a goalie, and his career's save percentage of .923 in 34 games is above average. He was on the 2014 Kings team that won a Stanley Cup, so he’s seen firsthand what it takes to win a championship. That’s worth something.
The Kings also developed him properly, getting 158 games of AHL experience under his belt -- an important distinction for any young player but especially a goalie. His lowest save percentage in the AHL was .919, and by the time he was ready for a promotion, he put up a .928 save percentage in the 2013-14 season.
Team Canada thought highly enough of him to bring him to Prague this spring as part of its gold-medal-winning World Championship roster, and Jones was strong in limited action, allowing three goals on 38 shots, including a shutout against Germany.
So there’s a lot to like. There’s also risk.
His small sample size came on one of the league’s best and most structured teams. The Kings have a way of making goalies look good, and sometimes those numbers drop once they’re out of the organization.
Ben Scrivens was great for the Kings, posting a .931 save percentage in 19 games before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a third-round pick. After leaving Los Angeles, Scrivens’ save percentage has fallen to .898.
Jonathan Bernier looked like a future star at times in net for the Kings but ultimately had a .912 save percentage in 62 games with Los Angeles. That was exactly what he posted last season with the Maple Leafs. If nothing else, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi has done a nice job spinning the Kings' backup goalie position into assets in using those goalies to acquire draft picks and eventually winger Milan Lucic.
The biggest difference here is that Jones is going to a team in San Jose that is considerably better than the ones Bernier and Scrivens joined. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer will have his team playing a structured game with the Sharks' defensive corps one that should provide Jones protection as he makes the adjustment to NHL starter.
The Jones trade has the makings of a smart bet by Wilson and the Sharks, but it’s a gamble all the same.