SAN JOSE – The NHL trade deadline is less than two weeks away on March 1. It's highly unlikely that the Sharks, who are coming off of their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance and are in first place in the Pacific Division, will make any blockbuster transactions or overhaul the roster.
The likeliest place they would make a move, though, would be at the backup goaltender position. Although Aaron Dell has been outstanding in his first year, with a 6-3-1 record, 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, there is a thought that the Sharks should find a netminder that has a little more NHL experience in case something happens to Martin Jones. They did it when they brought in James Reimer last season, allowing Jones some valuable time off down the stretch, and it might make sense for them to do it again.
In the dressing room and on the ice, though, the confidence in Dell is high and grows with every outing. Last Saturday in Philadelphia in his most recent game, when Dell stole the Sharks a point in a 2-1 overtime loss, coach Pete DeBoer gave the 27-year-old his most ringing endorsement to date.
"I don't know what else he could do to show that he's an NHL caliber goalie so far," DeBoer said on Feb. 11. "Those are decisions that Doug [Wilson] makes, but in my mind, that's not an issue right now for us."
Dell, speaking on Thursday after an optional practice at Sharks Ice, was aware of DeBoer's comments.
"It's an honor to get some compliments like that from a guy like him," Dell said. "He's right, though, that it's Doug Wilson's decision in the end. Me and him have no control over that either way, but it's nice to get a compliment like that from him."
So, what does Wilson think? At the beginning of the month, the general manager was asked his opinion on how Dell has handled his first season in the NHL.
"A big part of it is, do his teammates believe in him and play for him? Yes, they do," Wilson told CSN on Feb. 2. "Aaron has come in and given us some big wins at key times. We believe in Aaron."
Is it a risk going into the playoffs with a backup that has hardly any NHL experience, though?
"What you're referring to is the comfort you have with the unknown. When you have a comfort with somebody that you know well, that the teammates and coaches know, that makes it much more comfortable," Wilson said.
"We'll see what transpires between now and then. As I've said, we always explore any ways we can add to this hockey team."
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The Sharks are fortunate that Jones has remained healthy this season, although some fatigue may be setting in. The starting goalie has seen his save percentage drop from .924 in November, to .916 in December, to .911 in January to just .882 so far in February. He has started 49 of 58 games, and those declining save percentages seem to indicate he's been playing too much.
If Dell ends up being the permanent backup, there's a good chance he'll get more action than he's seen so far, as the Sharks saw how valuable it was for Jones to rest up before the playoffs last spring when Reimer started eight of the final 19 games.
After the bye week from Feb. 20-24, the Sharks have 22 games over the final 43 days of the season. Asking Jones to play more than 13-15 of those would be a risk.
Dell believes he can handle more responsibility if need be.
"With every game I think I get some more experience, and get a little more comfortable," he said. "I think if I was playing more regularly that would come a little quicker."
Justin Braun expressed confidence that Dell could even handle the number one role, too, if it ever came to that.
"He's an older guy, he's been around the leagues and he's probably learned a lot over the years doing that and [knowing] how to win and handle different situations," Braun said. "It doesn't seem like he's one of those guys that's going to get rattled or flustered or anything. He's just going to keep going and doing his job, and that's a nice thing to have back there."
DeBoer said: "Every time we [put] him in there he's found a way to have success or help us win or play well. That's all you can ask. For me, you don't overthink those things. He's getting the job done, and deserves to be here."