Dear Santa: Sharks’ 2021 Christmas Wish-List

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… at least for holiday spirit. For the San Jose Sharks, the holiday season has brought an underwhelming run of form, with a 5-5-0 record in December bringing the team to 15-14-1 on the season. The team currently stands sixth in the division by points-percentage, and being chased by a Vancouver Canucks squad on a six-game winning streak.

San Jose Sharks Erik Karlsson Timo Meier Joe Pavelski
San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson celebrates with Timo Meier and Joe Pavelski (AP Photo/Josie Lepe, File)

But, the holiday season is about joy, hope, and, most importantly for Sharks fans, optimism. Every year, Santa Claus can grant the wishes of children worldwide. For the Sharks, they have a laundry list of requests for the Jolly-Ol’ fellow to grant.

There’s a multitude of problems for the Sharks. Their present team seems to be a cut below the true contenders of the division, however, there’s still uncertainty and skepticism around their future. So, let’s look at the Sharks’ wish-list for Santa this December.

Clarity on Hertl’s Future

This season, Tomas Hertl has been up and down. Currently, he’s riding a five-game point streak that’s seen him tally six goals and nine points. That streak has boosted him to 14 goals and 22 points in 30 games this season. That .73 points-per-game is actually his worst rate in the last four seasons, but he seems to be on an uptick.

The Sharks seem uncertain what to do with Hertl. He’s had a revolving door of wingers again this season, including Rudolfs Balcers, Noah Gregor, Alexander Barabanov, and most recently rookie debutant Jayden Halbgewachs. They rely on him to carry a second line, while Logan Couture is aided by a breakout Timo Meier and rookie Jonathan Dahlen.

Tomas Hertl San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For a brief stint, the Sharks joined Meier and Hertl together, who I would say the team’s two best forwards. However, that left not much offense to the rest of the team. In my opinion, Hertl’s potential trade value will only be brought down by playing him with lesser teammates who sour his point totals.

Hertl’s future remains uncertain. His bargain $5.625 million contract ends this season, and the expected price tag for his extension would be in the area of $8 million per year. Next season, the Sharks will have in the area of $13-15 million in salary cap space with Dahlen and Mario Ferraro needing extensions and the bottom part of the lineup needing to be signed.

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

The Czech center would probably be the top asset moved at the deadline, and warrant a first-round pick and combination of prospects and other picks from the team acquiring Hertl. There is no clear vision as to how Hertl’s future looks, and that clarity is at the top of San Jose’s wish-list.

Better Situations for Sharks’ Recent Top Picks

After a season performing under lofty expectations, 2018 first-round pick Ryan Merkley is showing his offensive talent in professional hockey. Albeit at the American Hockey League (AHL) level, he has a goal and 16 points in 19 games for the San Jose Barracuda. For reference, he’s the only Barracuda defenseman above half-a-point per-game. He even potted a goal in six NHL games coming in relief for the team’s many players in COVID protocol in late October.

However, the team’s top picks in the last three drafts have not had the same success, mainly due to their situations. 20-year-old Artemi Kniazev is also on the Barracuda but struggling in his transition to professional hockey. After an impressive junior career, he will need to find his footing.

Artemi Kniazev San Jose Sharks Draft
Artemi Kniazev, San Jose Sharks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

San Jose’s 2019 second-round pick has just one assist through 17 games, slotted on the third pairing with minimal power play time. He came up for an NHL game in early November, and looked shaky in relief of the team’s injured and ill players.

2020 31st-overall pick, Ozzy Wiesblatt, has started 2021-22 under expectations on a poor Prince Albert Raiders squad. He has seven goals and 23 points in 26 games for the 12-14-2 Raiders, who recently traded their top defenseman Kaiden Guhle away. As the team’s leading scorer, it appears he’s being relied upon too heavily to carry the team to relevancy in the Western Hockey League. In his last season of eligibility, he did not even receive an invite to Canada’s World Junior Championships camp.

And the Sharks’ most recent first round-pick, William Eklund, is possibly in the worst situation of the three prospects. After a nine-game trial in the NHL, he returned to his Swedish Hockey League (SHL) team, Djurgardens IF. Dead-last in the SHL, their leading scorer is former Sharks grinder Marcus Sorensen.

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With just five assists in nine games on the team’s top line, his scoring rate is already fourth best on the team. The team will surely battle relegation to the second-division ahead of next season, when Eklund will likely leave them to join the Sharks. Eklund is currently in Edmonton ahead of the World Junior Championships where he’s slotted as Sweden’s first line center.

Playoffs for any of Eklund, Wiesblatt, or Kniazev’s teams are extremely unlikely. The Sharks’ top prospects could really use better situations to develop into the top of the lineup players San Jose expects.

All Star Appearances for Two Rebounding Players

Last season, the contracts of Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson looked like horrid overpayments. While the latter is probably still not living up to his massive price tag, both have taken huge strides this season in returning to the top players of the organization.

Timo Meier San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Meier, 25 years-old, is on pace to have his first season above a point-per-game. The Swiss winger has 12 goals and 29 points in 25 games. As the team’s top scorer, he’s clearly rebounded from 12-goal and 31-point performance in 54 games last season. In a division featuring top forwards like Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid it can be tough to secure an All-Star selection, but his performance this season has warranted it.

Erik Karlsson, at 31 years old, has re-emerged as a true top pairing defenseman. With eight goals and 19 points through 24 games, he’s leading Sharks defenseman in scoring and fourth among team’s skaters. According to Evolving Hockey’s model, he’s third in the league in expected goals above replacement, showing his overall impact on offense, defense and special teams to be elite in the NHL.

One of the two players will surely represent San Jose in the All-Star Game, but it would be a treat to see both Sharks recognized league-wide for their outstanding seasons.

Removal of a Hefty Salary

Now, for the expected request on every fan’s wish-list. Heavy contracts such as Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kevin Labanc, Evander Kane, and even Brent Burns are not worth the on-ice performance, and their lengthy terms will impact the team’s financial state for numerous years to come.

Brent Burns San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I can only see two realistically moved this season, in my opinion. Nearly half the league has sent scouts to see Barracuda forward Kane. Reportedly, the Sharks are willing to retain on his four remaining seasons at $7 million annually.

The 30-year-old has not been welcomed back to the Sharks after his 21-game suspension for using a fake COVID vaccination card. The locker room last season was not impressed with Kane’s attitude in addition to off-ice issues that have surfaced throughout last season and this offseason. In the AHL he has two goals and eight points in five games.

Kevin Labanc, now 26 years old, has just three goals and six points in 21 games so far this season. This poor performance has seen him even be scratched, despite the high expectations stemming from his three remaining seasons at $4.75-million.

The offense-first winger normally sits on the fourth line and second power-play unit, but has not impressed coaching staff enough to warrant a bump up the lineup this season. Now, Labanc will require shoulder surgery and need multiple months to recover.

Kevin Labanc San Jose Sharks
Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Logan Couture and Karlsson have been among the team’s top player this season, so I cannot see the Sharks wanting to move them despite their long-term and expensive contracts. Kane, and probably Labanc’s, possible trades would likely require San Jose to retain salary. Gaining cap space to work with at the upcoming deadline and for future offseasons would be significant for the team.

Getting Hockey Back

Due to the travel restrictions from the NHL, the Sharks will not host the remainder of their homestand against the Canucks and Oilers. Instead, the Sharks’ next game is scheduled for Dec. 28 against the Anaheim Ducks.

However, the Sharks are also wishing for the health of their players. Hertl, Burns, and Jonathan Dahlen currently reside on COVID protocol, and are key players for when the season returns.

Jonathan Dahlen San Jose Sharks
Jonathan Dahlen, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite being a pretty much average squad, that’s significantly better hockey than Sharks fans have seen the last two seasons. Fans will hope to see a healthy and revitalized squad soon.

What are you asking Santa for this Christmas season? Let me know in the comment section!

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