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 contracts 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, while the RFAs are Jonah Gadjovich, Noah Gregor, Jonathan Dahlen, Jacob Middleton, and Nikolai Knyzhov. In addition to these players, there are players on the roster with contracts beyond 2021-22 who may not be around come 2022-23. Here are my predictions for which current Sharks won’t be around in 2022-23.
Radim Simek burst onto the scene in 2018-19. The Sharks signed the then-25-year-old to a contract after having a strong season in the Czechia league and his performance at the 2017 IIHF World Championships. After a strong campaign with the San Jose Barracuda in 2017-18, Simek made the Sharks and was a staple alongside Brent Burns for most of the 2018-19 season. According to Evolving Hockey, he was second on the Sharks in Corsi against per 60 minutes (CA/60) to Brenden Dillon, meaning he was the best defensive defenseman on the team.
Unfortunately, in March of 2019, Simek tore both his MCL and ACL in his right knee, requiring surgery and ending his season. In December of 2019, he had a procedure to further repair his surgically repaired right knee. It seems as though it took him a long time to fully recover, as during the 2019-20 season, he was eighth out of nine defenders in CA/60. He improved to second in 2020-21, but he only played 40 games due to further injury trouble.
This season, Simek’s CA/60 has him first on the team, and he is hitting the most per 60 minutes (9.64) than he ever has before. With the emergence of Jacob Middleton (more on him below) and the imminent return of Nikolai Knyzhov, the left-handed Simek could be expendable. That’s especially true considering Simek is due to make $2.25 million for two seasons after this, so the Sharks would likely welcome the option to move him. Considering Simek’s age, contract, and inconsistent play, I would advocate for this move. The Sharks could probably get a reasonable asset for Simek like a mid-level prospect or perhaps a third- or fourth-round pick.
Andrew Cogliano was a bit of a surprising signing by the Sharks in the offseason. He has a reputation of being a stellar defensive forward, but at 34 years old, there were questions about whether he could continue to live up to that reputation. So far this season, Cogliano leads the forwards in CA/60 even though he is 11th in average time on ice amongst regular forwards.
Cogliano might play against some of the easiest quality of competition in the league, according to PuckIQ, but his performance is still noteworthy. If the Sharks fall out of playoff contention, there will be many suitors looking to sure up their third line for a long run at the Stanley Cup. Cogliano has proven that despite his age, he can still be an effective defensive forward. If the Sharks are competitive at the trade deadline, I don’t imagine they trade him, but if they are out of it or become sellers, Cogliano is as good as gone.
Jacob Middleton or Nikolai Knyzhov
When everyone is healthy, the Sharks will likely be suiting up Burns, Erik Karlsson, Vlasic, and Mario Ferraro as the top four defenders. The bottom two has seen a mixture of Middleton, Simek, Nicolas Meloche, Santeri Hatakka, Jaycob Megna, Brinson Pasichnuk, and Ryan Merkley. There is no question that Merkley is in the long-term plan for the organization. That really leaves one spot for the rest of this group, at least in the short term before Burns and Vlasic age out of relevance, or in three and four years when their contracts expire. Artemi Kniazev is also progressing nicely in the AHL this season and is one of their top left-handed defender options.
Knyzhov was fantastic last season, easily the Sharks’ best rookie. He was rehabbing a lower-body injury all offseason, but after missing training camp, he decided to undergo surgery in October. He won’t suit up until sometime in January 2022 at the earliest. Once he does, the Sharks may not need the services of Middleton. Considering how long he has been out, I don’t think anyone should assume Knyzhov can just get right back to the level he was in 2020-21.
It’s difficult to compare across seasons and role. Knyzhov was head and shoulders above all other defenders on the Sharks in CA/60 in 2020-21. He didn’t play as regularly with one partner as Middleton has this season with Burns. Knyzhov often played alongside Simek, Vlasic, and Ferraro. Assuming he’s fully rehabilitated his injury, he was the more effective player, in my opinion, but Middleton’s contributions can’t be overlooked. Not to mention the toughness Middleton brings, as he is currently second in the league in fighting majors. This move might depend on if the Sharks move Simek; if Simek stays, perhaps they keep both Middleton and Knyzhov, but if not, I have to assume they move one. My guess would be Knyzhov, if he’s fully healthy.
For most Sharks fans, this one hurts. Tomas Hertl has been a fan favorite since he became a regular on the team in 2013-14. Since that time, he’s been one of the best forwards on the Sharks, both offensively and defensively. If the team was 100 percent committed to Hertl, I imagine they would have signed him in the offseason. The longer he goes throughout the season without signing, the more likely it is that he ends up on a different team in 2022-23.
The Sharks may not be able to afford Hertl, who would likely command a hefty, long-term contract on the open market. According to Evolving Hockey, Hertl is a top 30 player in expected goals above replacement (xGAR). xGAR is a complex metric that takes into account both offensive and defensive contributions from a player. Top-line centers in the NHL cost a pretty penny, and although Hertl at 28 years old might be a little past his prime, he can do things that not many can do.
There are only eight true centers who have a higher xGAR than Hertl this season: Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Joe Pavelski, Connor McDavid, Evan Rodrigues, Matt Duchene, and Joel Eriksson Ek. That is some pretty elite company for most of the names on this list and also an indication of what kind of contract Hertl should be getting. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more than six years and eight million per year. The Sharks might also consider trading Hertl, which could garner a hefty return.
The 2022-23 Sharks will probably be missing a few players from this roster. A lot will be determined by how competitive they are at the trade deadline. If they are on the outside looking in, there could be quite the fire sale of players coming. Either way, they’ll need to make tough decisions on who stays and who goes this offseason.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12