Sharks’ Deal Doesn’t Make Sense

On Tuesday night, the San Jose Sharks acquired Jannik Hansen from Vancouver for Nikolay Goldobin and a draft pick. It is a curious trade.

Arriving Soon

Hansen is a respectable player. He plays with an edge, gives something on offense and plays hard defense. He is also a third line talent and the Sharks have plenty of players which fit this description. Perhaps he’ll offer a little more grit and speed than the Sharks player who will leave the lineup but he will not be a major upgrade — maybe not even a minor upgrade. With Hansen, the Sharks have five NHL-proven right-wingers. The other four: Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson, Kevin Labanc and Joonas Donskoi. Together this season, they are a combined plus-19.

Joonas Donskoi (Zeke – THW)

Where does Hansen fit among the right wingers for the postseason? Which winger will Hansen replace?

Maybe there is uncertainty with Donskoi, who has just returned to the active roster after a lengthy stay on injured reserve. Of course, Donskoi had one of the biggest goals in franchise history, an overtime winner in the Stanley Cup Final.

Perhaps it is Karlsson on the bubble. He has a history of taking a lot of punishment and misses time with injuries every so often. Karlsson, though, was on the ice for more even strength goals than any other Sharks player in the Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe the Sharks don’t trust the rookie Labanc in the playoffs. Though they have trusted him in the regular season and been rewarded with good play. And it could be Ward, who is, after all, 36. Ward, of course, has a Game 7 overtime winner on his Stanley Cup playoffs resume.

The Salary Cap Challenge

Further adding to the puzzle, Hansen carries a healthy cap hit – $2.5million. We’ll see if there is any retained salary by Vancouver in the near future. He has another season after this one on his current deal. San Jose will be challenged to keep everyone under contract for next season.

Brent Burns (Photo credit Zeke/THW)

The team is up against the salary cap now. There is a major raise already locked in for Brent Burns next season. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are both in the final season of their deals.

Some of the younger players, including Donskoi, are restricted free agents at the end of the season. While the two great veterans will see pay cuts, the pay increases coming to Burns and some of the younger players will put the Sharks up against the cap, again.

The History

This has all the earmarks of Sharks general manager Doug Wilson trusting a gritty, veteran forward in the playoffs over younger, productive players. It hasn’t been a good history.

Last year, it was Nick Spaling acquired at the trade deadline. A couple of seasons before that, Raffi Torres. Going back further, it’s been gritty players including Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi – all acquired at the trade deadline. All these low-end forwards, and not one has made a tangible difference in the postseason. Is Hansen going to add to this list? Most likely.

Brenden Dillon
Brenden Dillon (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

The initial reactions from the player interviews in the Sharks locker room were telling. The comments were diplomatic, the praise for Hansen on the faint side. Though the right words came out, there was a notable lack of enthusiasm in their answers. Take, for example, this reaction from Logan Couture.

“He’s one of those guys, he’ll play chippy, he’ll finish his check on skilled guys. He plays in-your-face.”

Does it sound like Couture is talking about a difference maker? Defenseman Brenden Dillon might have accidentally driven home the point when he commented on Hansen’s work “after the whistle.”

The Departed

The Sharks parted with prospect Nikolay Goldobin and a fourth round pick, which upgrades to a first rounder if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup.

Nikolay Goldobin
On draft day 2014, Doug Wilson, Nikolay Goldobin, Todd McLellan (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

For Goldobin, it has been an odd history with San Jose. He was taken with the 27th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Sharks traded down to the 27th spot from the 20th spot. The 20th pick, Nick Schmaltz, is playing a helpful role in Chicago. The 21st pick, Robby Fabbri, is helping St. Louis. With the 25th pick, Boston selected David Pastrnak, who has been terrific for the Boston Bruins. Turning the 20th overall pick into Jannik Hansen isn’t the return Doug Wilson hoped to get.

Goldobin has had an interesting few weeks. On Valentine’s Day, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer (in casual attire) and his coaches attended the AHL game between the San Jose Barracuda and Arizona’s AHL team, the Tucson Roadrunners. Shortly thereafter, it became clear the Barracuda player DeBoer and his staff were concentrating on was Goldobin. He had a strong game that evening, with a goal and two assists in the Barracuda’s 4-1 win.

Peter DeBoer (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Goldobin was called up to the Sharks the next day. He didn’t play in next Sharks game, but was in the lineup against Arizona on February 18 and against the Boston Bruins the following day. In the third period against Boston, DeBoer benched Goldobin.

The next day, he was back with the Barracuda. On February 25 with the Barracuda, he scored the game-tying goal with two minutes to go in regulation (against Tucson). The Barracuda won in overtime for their 14th consecutive victory.

The Organization

When a team has a 14-game win streak, everyone’s stock rises. Goldobin, still only 21, was third on the team in points and assists – and fourth in goals. He was a big part of the Barrcuda’s success. Though he was not NHL ready, his story line was looking up. Being among the top producers on the AHL’s hottest team. Goldobin fit a ‘sell high’ scenario. The Sharks found a way to ‘sell modest’ on him.

The trade of Goldobin hurts the Barracuda team as it heads into the AHL playoffs. While the needs of the NHL team come first, the needs of the AHL team shouldn’t be taken for granted.

A successful playoff run for the Barracuda helps the Sharks organization. It helps the Barracuda players develop postseason experience. Plus, being part of a winner increases the perceived value of the players. The trade of Goldobin hurts the Barracuda’s chances to go deep into the AHL postseason.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson

All in all, it is tough to rationalize this trade. It creates issues with the salary cap, and it doesn’t upgrade the Sharks team in a meaningful way. The Barracuda’s playoff prospects are hurt, which negatively impacts the potential for player growth and player value.

The trade precludes other potential moves for San Jose. They can no longer trade either the first or fourth round picks (since either could go to Vancouver) and one prospect is gone. If the Sharks were hoping for a higher-end player in a trade, they now have less assets available to use.

The Bottom Line

There are reward scenarios with this deal. Hansen, with more talent around him, might find a new level to his game. If the Sharks suffer an injury or two, the depth he provides will help. And there is always a chance he makes a huge play in a key moment in a series. Still, these are not the most likely scenarios.

Hansen for Goldobin isn’t a case of San Jose selling high. Especially with the added kicker, a fourth round pick which turns into a first rounder if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup. Of course, a Cup win and everything is glorious. But this isn’t the sort of deal which puts a team over the hump. It is not getting a Kevin Shattenkirk-level player.

Shattenkirk was traded for (essentially) a first round pick plus a conditional second (a conditional second is probably what Goldobin would go for these days). If you are in it to win it, get the player who makes it worthwhile to give up the first rounder — a player at the level of Kevin Shattenkirk. Getting Hansen isn’t an ‘in it to win it’ trade.

The bottom line is this: the Sharks decided to play small when they really needed to play bigger at the trade deadline. Or not play at all.