Sharks have added young defensemen and might land Bedard, but one key area still needs attention

Sharks have added young defensemen and might land Bedard, but one key area still needs attention

The San Jose Sharks have tried to address their organizational depth on defense in recent weeks, and as February has turned into March, their chances of winning the NHL draft lottery — and thereby drafting a future star forward such as Connor Bedard — have only increased.

Those additions might only go so far – in terms of being a Stanley Cup contender again — if the Sharks can’t find a goalie to grow with that group.

Unearthing that type of netminder, either through a trade or free agency, will be at or near the top of general manager Mike Grier’s to-do list once his offseason gets underway.

“Goalie is a priority for us. It’s probably a priority for a lot of teams,” Grier said last week. “But we’ll keep building. There’s still lots of holes to fill and lots of space on the shelf to keep trying to fill up.”

The Sharks began their road trip with a team save percentage of .881, the second-worst mark in the 32-team NHL. Against the Winnipeg Jets, starting goalie James Reimer made 36 saves as the Sharks won 3-2 in overtime to snap a five-game losing streak.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why goaltending is such a question mark going forward.

Reimer, who had a .892 save percentage before Monday’s game, turns 35 on March 15 and is a pending unrestricted free agent. Kaapo Kahkonen, 26, is signed through next season. He played well in February after the Sharks suggested some changes, but after he allowed eight goals on 30 shots Saturday against the Washington Capitals, still owns an .882 save percentage.

Among the 51 NHL goalies who have played at least 20 games this season, Reimer and Kahkonen, per, ranked 46th and 47th, respectively, in goals saved above expected before Monday’s games.

In more general terms, the Sharks have allowed 3.69 goals per game, fourth-worst in the NHL. That’s over a half-goal per game more than last season (3.18), and their highest average since 1995-96 when they allowed 4.35 goals per game.

Blame the goalies, blame the skaters, or blame the system, the Sharks have almost no chance of becoming a playoff-type team again if they can’t cut down on the goals against, especially if offensive dynamo Erik Karlsson is playing somewhere else in 2023-24.

“What you pride yourself in as a goaltender is when maybe the team has hit a bit of a wall, you want to try and come up with a couple of big saves to keep it close or to keep them in it,” Reimer said after the Sharks’ 6-3 loss to St. Louis on Thursday. “That’s just something you want to do as a competitor.”

In the Sharks’ minor league system are Eetu Makiniemi, 23, and Strauss Mann, 24, who are both pending restricted free agents. On the reserve list are Ben Gaudreau, 20, Mason Beaupit, 19, and Magnus Chrona, 22.

Of that group, Makiniemi is the closest to being NHL-ready, as he played well in two appearances with the Sharks this season. In 22 AHL games this year, Makiniemi is 8-10-3-2, with a .900 save percentage.

San Jose Sharks goaltender Eetu Makiniemi (32) blocks a shot against the Vancouver Canucks in overtime at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

In other words, he’s had an up-and-down year and is no sure thing to be on the Sharks’ opening night roster next season. But helping the Barracuda reach the AHL playoffs could be beneficial to his and other players’ development. Right now, San Jose is tied for eighth in the AHL’s Pacific Division with 49 points, five points out of a playoff spot with 18 games to go.

“It’s important for all the young guys down there, (Makiniemi) included,” Grier said. “Hopefully they make the playoffs, but playing important games where every goal matters, every play matters, every shift matters. I think it’s a good experience for young players.”

On defense, the Sharks acquired defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin, 21, and Nikita Okhotiuk, 22, as part of the Timo Meier deal, and traded for Anaheim Ducks 2019 draft pick Henry Thrun, 21, last Thursday. All three have the potential to be full-time NHL players in the next year or two.

Bedard, a 17-year-old centerman, is considered a generational-type talent and the best player available in this year’s draft, and the Sharks have a better chance of selecting him now than they did a month ago.


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