Devils Should Target Labanc, Meier

The San Jose Sharks got down to business yesterday morning, re-signing defenseman Erik Karlsson to a mega-deal worth a total north of $88 million over eight years. This puts the team in a tight cap situation as they have a bunch of key restricted and unrestricted free agents to re-up. Two of those RFAs are Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, both of whom had career seasons.

It could prove difficult to re-sign both if they plan on bringing back Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and their other UFAs. Here’s why this could be a chance for the New Jersey Devils to snag one of Labanc or Meier.

Labanc, Meier Are Legit Top-Six Forwards

Both of them are two of the Sharks’ top young players. After a 36-point season in 2017-18, Meier finished with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games. Labanc also had the best season of his career, finishing with 17 goals and 56 points in 82 games, a 16-point jump from a year ago. They’re both coming off their entry-level contracts and are due for big pay raises this summer.

Related: Nyquist, Panik Should be Devils’ Top Free Agent Targets

Not only is Meier one of the best young players on the Sharks, but he’s also one of the best in the NHL. Here’s where his Corsi-For percentage (CF%), expected goals for percentage (xGF%), scoring chances for percentage (SCF%), and high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%) rank among NHL forwards since the start of 2017 (min. 1000 minutes played):

  • CF%: 54.41% (34th)
  • xGF%: 57.07% (18th)
  • SCF%: 55.95% (10th)
  • HDCF%: 58.41% (34th)

Those are some impressive five-on-five shot rates, and as you might’ve guessed, Meier can score among the top players, too. He’s averaged 2.16 points per 60 minutes (P/60), ranking him ahead of Nicklas Backstrom and Vladimir Tarasenko. Meier’s goals above replacement (GAR) of 22 also places him among the top 50 of NHL forwards.

Timo Meier Sharks
The San Jose Sharks will need to find the money to pay Timo Meier (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s pretty clear Meier is an elite offensive talent, but Labanc can hold his own, too. He has a CF% of 54.78% since 2017, ranked 25th among NHL forwards, as well as an xGF% of 52.15%. He’s also averaged 1.73 P/60, the same Jason Zucker and .01 less than Kasperi Kapanen, both of whom are top-six forwards.

One area where Labanc has an advantage over Meier is on the power play. He’s averaged 6.11 P/60 since 2017, ranked 25th in the league among forwards, while Meier has averaged 3.43 P/60. The Devils’ power play has struggled for some time, so adding a playmaker like Labanc will go a long way.

Meier’s Great, but a Labanc Trade Seems More Likely

Meier is an emerging star and is a force at five-on-five. He has more of an overall positive impact than Labanc, specifically on defense, and is an elite goal scorer. He’s also Swiss, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind playing with fellow countryman, Nico Hischier. With that said, he’s going to be a top priority for the Sharks, and they’ll find the money to get him re-signed one way or another.

Evolving Wild projects Meier will fetch a five-year deal worth $5.889 million annually. With Karlsson’s new contract, that’ll leave only a few million for the Sharks to re-sign Labanc, Thornton, Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi. And that doesn’t include other RFA and UFAs they have.

The odds say not all of those players will be back. And with Pavelski and Thornton having played their whole careers with the organization, one imagines they’ll return. That could result in someone like Labanc being a cap casualty, and that could be the Devils’ gain.

Kevin Labanc
Kevin Labanc could return to the tri-state area to play for the hometown New Jersey Devils (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He was born in Staten Island, NY and played with the New Jersey Rockets (MetJHL, AtJHL) as a teenager. He’s only 23 years old and is a right winger, which is a positional need for the Devils. He’s projected to land a three-year deal just north of $3.7 million annually, and with the organization having around $35 million in cap space, it won’t be an issue.

The Sharks could also benefit from recouping some assets. They don’t have a pick in the first, second, or fourth rounds at this weekend’s Entry Draft. The Devils, on the other hand, have three second-round picks and two third-round picks. A package revolving around a couple of those could be enticing to the Sharks, especially given the deep draft class.

Related: Devils Need a Busy Offseason

Meier is the better player, and Devils’ general manager Ray Shero should inquire about him, but a trade for Labanc is much more likely. He won’t cost as much to acquire, nor will he cost as much to re-sign. He’ll help bolster their top six, which needs to be addressed this offseason. And he’d be a great addition to their power play, too. That’s the exact type of player the organization needs to get them back on the right track.

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey