4 Sharks Free Agents Most Likely to Return Next Season

The 2022 offseason should be an interesting one for the San Jose Sharks. After two straight disappointing seasons, the team appears to be at least a playoff contender at this point. With the large contract of Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Marc Edouard-Vlasic, and Erik Karlsson hanging over their heads, they will have to make some difficult decisions about who returns to the team.

The Sharks have three regulars in the lineup who will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs) before the 2022-23 season and six restricted free agents (RFAs). The UFAs are Tomas Hertl, Andrew Cogliano, and Alexander Barabanov, the RFAs are Jonah Gdjovich, Noah Gregor, Jonathan Dahlen, Radim Simek, Jacob Middleton, and Nikolai Knyzhov. I covered the Sharks who probably won’t return in a separate article here. Here are my predictions for which Sharks’ free agents should return in 2022-23.

Mario Ferraro

Mario Ferraro has become one of the best defenders on this team. There’s no question that the 2017 2nd round pick is now the best left-handed defender on the team. Ferraro plays against the toughest quality of competition. He leads the team in both hits and blocks while trailing only Brent Burns in average time on ice.

Mario Ferraro San Jose Sharks
Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ferraro represented Canada at the World Championships in Riga, Latvia in 2021, registering two assists in 10 games en route to a gold medal. It was his first time representing Canada and a huge feather in his cap. Before the beginning of this season, Ferraro was named an alternate captain for the Sharks. All of these accolades and achievements tell me that he is likely to sign a long-term extension and is definitely going to be a Shark come 2022-23.

Jonathan Dahlen

Jonathan Dahlen has had a great first season with the Sharks. After playing two straight seasons in the Hockey Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division, there were questions about how well his game would translate. Well, those questions have been answered with a resounding vote of confidence. So far this season, Dahlen, along with linemates Logan Couture and Timo Meier, has been one of the most productive lines in the NHL. Their 12 expected goals for have them 4th in the league, high praise indeed.

San Jose Sharks With or Without 2021-22 courtesy of @HockeyViz

It isn’t like Dahlen is just a passenger either. According to the above table from HockeyViz, Dahlen makes the team better when he is on the ice, regardless of who he plays with. Even more so than Couture, which could be debatable watching the games, but at least it supports the idea that he is not a worthless third wheel. All of this points to Dahlen likely either getting a bridge deal or a long-term contract. Which one probably depends on how the other signings go, either way, I’m confident Dahlen is back with the Sharks in 2022-23.

Alexander Barabanov

Alexander Barabanov has been a bit of a revelation since joining the Sharks. The Russian winger had years of success in the SKA St. Petersburg system of the KHL before the Toronto Maple Leafs signed him in 2020. He got into just 13 games for them before the team decided they didn’t have room for him. The Sharks were able to acquire him for Antii Suomela, who was not getting into games for the Sharks either.

Alexander Barabanov San Jose Sharks
Alexander Barabanov, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After joining the Sharks in 2020-21, he had seven points in his nine games and looked great. In the offseason, he represented Russia at the World Championships in Riga, Latvia. While Russia didn’t medal, his eight points in eight games led the team. That boost of confidence has translated to 2021-22 as Barabanov has a respectable 15 points in 25 games. His point per game pace is higher than Dahlen’s, even though he is not playing with the team’s top two leading scorers in Couture and Meier.

Related: Sharks’ Eklund Looks to Lead Sweden to World Junior Gold

The only reason Barabanov won’t be back is if someone offers him more money for a longer-term. Based on his play, you could argue that he is worth more than the Sharks might be able to afford. On the other hand, the Sharks are one of the few teams in the league where he can play in the top six. He’s already seen what happens on stacked teams like the Maple Leafs where he gets relegated to the AHL or traded. General manager Doug Wilson has a knack for retaining guys and staying loyal to those who make good on their opportunities. I expect the same for Barabanov and he should be back in 2022-23.

Noah Gregor

At the beginning of the season, I would have said that Gregor would likely not return next season. However, the 23-year-old has looked like an entirely new player this season. He looks faster and more decisive with the puck. He is playing this season as if he knows that he is in danger of not getting a new contract with the Sharks and ending up a guy too good for the AHL, but not quite good enough for the NHL.

Noah Gregor San Jose Sharks
Noah Gregor, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Gregor hasn’t been amazing by any means. His Corsi against per 60 is still one of the worst on a pretty good defensive team. What has improved a fair amount is his offense. Gregor is 8th on the team in expected goals for per 60 minutes and his expected goal differential is similarly in the middle of the pack. The Sharks can definitely use depth offense and if Gregor can provide that, he is worth at least a one-year league minimum contract for 2022-23.

The Sharks will have to make some interesting contract decisions ahead of the 2022-23 season. The direction of the team will be influenced by their performance this season. If the team does poorly and becomes a seller prior to the trade deadline, guys like Barabanov and Gregor may become expendable. I don’t see any way they trade Ferraro or Dahlen. It will be interesting to see what the team looks like in 2022-23 and if they will be a contender for the playoffs.

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