Alex Stalock

Miller availability brings focus back to Sharks’ goaltending

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If there was a resounding theme to Doug Wilson’s conference call with the media last week, it was that the Sharks are supposedly reshaping the franchise to be younger and grittier.

Specifically, the GM hinted he hopes the young players will take the “kick-in-the-ass moment” — otherwise known as taking a 3-games-to-none lead in the series and then losing four games straight — and build a successful future season from it.

The comments weren’t just in reference to more veteran players that the team parted ways with last week. Wilson was also quite complimentary of a few youngsters on the current roster who made big late season contributions, mentioning a few by name. A certain backup goaltender was part of that conversation:

“We’ve reached out. What you love about Alex is that, that’s the type of guy that you want on your team. His journey, what he’s gone through, how he competes. When I talk about some of these younger players, they’ve all gone through some challenges. And that’s the type of fortitude that you want… And Alex has that. He’s a special kid.”

No surprise that Stalock is part of the conversation. The backup’s impressive campaign was part of the on-going goalie debate in San Jose. The Minnesota native registered a .938 save percentage in 24 games played while serving as Antti Niemi’s backup, even setting a franchise record when he notched 178:55 minutes of shutout hockey back in January.

After Niemi’s level of play began to falter in the latter part of the 2014 regular season, the argument over who Todd McLellan should be giving starting honors to began to take center stage.

The argument is getting attention again as free agency approaches and netminders around the league will hit the market in search of a new team. Most notably is former Olympian Ryan Miller, who will end his short tenure with the Blues after St. Louis signed Brian Elliot to a three-year, $7.5 million extension.

So with Miller going on the market and Niemi entering the final year of his contract in SJ, there is of course speculation as to if the Sharks would potentially give Niemi the boot in favor of the 33-year-old tender; perhaps a Miller-Stalock tandem.

Preaching a younger-stronger team just to tell the impressive young goalie to take the backseat to a new vet? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

There is question as to whether Stalock has the ability to be as dominant if he was in the crease on a regular basis. Keep in mind, he saw very few starts before the Sochi Olympic break. Even though he struggled down the stretch, Niemi still got the bulk of the starts over Stalock as the Sharks headed towards the playoffs.

So then: Would it behoove the Sharks to keep a goaltender with a bit more seasoning in the starting role and keep Stalock as the backup guy?

Perhaps Miller’s postseason slump with St. Louis was more due to running out of gas after his late-season move, and less to do with declining level of play. The former Vezina Trophy winner, who spent a good decade in the Sabres organization, was between the pipes in Buffalo facing San Jose when his emotional move to St. Louis was finalized. He did end the regular season 10-8-1 in a Blues sweater.

But if the Sharks are going to overhaul their roster and promote a younger, gritter attitude, this might not be the move to make when free agency opens on July 1.

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