Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of NHL training camp.
Name/Position: Alex Stalock, goaltender
Salary: $1.5 million
Contract status: Signed through 2015-16 ($1.6 million cap hit)
2013-14 year in review: In his first full NHL season, Alex Stalock thrived in a backup role behind Antti Niemi. In 24 games, the Minnesota native was 12-5-2 with a 1.87 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. The Sharks’ nominee for the Masterton Trophy, thanks to his recovery from a career threatening injury in 2011, Stalock set a new franchise record with a shutout streak of 178 minutes and 55 seconds during a stretch in January.
In the playoffs, Stalock relieved Niemi in Games 4 and 4 of the first round before getting his first career start in Game 6, a 4-1 Sharks loss that turned on a controversial third period goal by the Kings’ Justin Williams.
2014-15 outlook: Officially, the Sharks will tell you that the starting goaltender’s job is an open competition in training camp. That may be true, but I believe that Stalock is the frontrunner for the job, considering his performance last year and the Sharks’ wanting to get their younger players more involved. Stalock, 27, is now signed for two more seasons while Antti Niemi, 31, is a pending unrestricted free agent coming off of a rough 2013-14 campaign.
Can Stalock, who needed a full year to recover from a serious left leg injury, handle a starter’s workload? That’s something we don’t know yet. Despite his admirable return from injury, Stalock has still played in just 69 total games between the NHL and AHL in the last three seasons. He didn’t start more than two straight games last season. Although he’s played well just about every time he’s gotten a chance, and his skills at handling the puck are much better than Niemi’s, Stalock still has some work to do to show that he can be a starting goaltender in this league.
This should be the year he gets that chance. If he thrives while playing on a nightly basis, Stalock could be in San Jose for a long time. If he struggles, Niemi could reclaim the job, or the Sharks could look elsewhere to fill their goal crease.