Sharks Reward Backup Goaltender's Unlikely Rise With Two-year Extension

Nearly five years after winning a championship in a now-defunct professional hockey league, Sharks backup goaltender Aaron Dell now has contract security at the game's highest level. 

The Sharks re-signed Dell to a two-year contract extension, general manager Doug Wilson told radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky in a Facebook Live stream Wednesday morning.  The deal is for $3.8 million, according to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz. 

"It's one of those things that you love to see a guy like this accomplish something like that," Wilson told Rusanowsky. "He's a part of this group. He's the fabric of this organization, and I'm not sure if [goaltending development coach Evgeni Nabokov], [goaltending coach Johan Hedberg] or [Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer] was the happiest of it all, but we're just very proud where he's got to; him deciding to forego unrestricted free agency and sign an extension with us and keep our goaltending in good stead for the next several years." 

His extension is the latest step in what's been an improbable journey from the bottom of the professional ranks. Undrafted out of the University of North Dakota, Dell signed signed with the Allen Americans of the now-defunct Central Hockey League in 2012, and backstopped the team to a championship in his professional season, before then splitting time with the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies and the AHL's Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14. 

Dell rapidly rose through the Sharks' organizational ranks over the last four seasons. He started with the Allen, which traded for him in its first season as San Jose's ECHL affiliate, in 2014-15, before earning a pair of call-ups to the Worcester Sharks, then the organization's AHL affiliate. and officially signing with the organization on Mar. 4, 2015.

In 66 AHL games with Worcester and the San Jose Barracuda from 2014-16, Dell posted a .931 save percentage and beat out Troy Grosenick to take over as the Barracuda's main starter ahead of the 2015-16 Calder Cup Playoffs. Dell beat out Grosenick again last season, earning the Sharks' backup role out of training camp. 

Dell's been there ever since, posting a .920 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average in 45 appearances (37 starts) with the Sharks over the last two seasons. Dell's five-on-five save percentage (.928) ranks 16th among goalies that have played at least 1,000 five-on-five minutes since the beginning of last season, according to Corsica Hockey

Because of his then-pending unrestricted free agency, Dell's name popped up as a trade possibility. After the deadline passed on Monday, Wilson told reporters he never considered trading the 28-year-old. 

"The way he's played this year, we felt that this group has performed really well and I didn't explore moving him at all," Wilson said at the time. "As a matter of fact, I hope to do something on his contract. Going forth, that's my intention and he's been extremely loyal to us. It's nice to be able to reward people who have gone through that journey and be loyal and we'll try to address that in the near future."

The Sharks now have 18 players under contract next season, with between $19 million and $23 million in salary cap space, depending on where the salary cap ultimately rises. The NHL projected next year's upper limit would rise to between $78 million and $82 million for the 2018-19 season in December, up from the current $75 million limit. 

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