The San Jose Sharks, like most of the NHL, faced a long lay-off in addition to the league’s holiday break. With their first game in over 10 days coming today against the Arizona Coyotes, I took questions over the break from fans on Twitter.
With the pause, it appears many fans also stopped focus on the current team and are curious about the Sharks’ future. It makes sense, considering the team’s long-term contracts make their last two seasons of poor performance seem indicative of the future.
Especially as the club approaches the 2022 offseason, where current players with large roles need decent raises and long-term contracts, the team’s future is uncertain. Below I try to give my best read on the team’s future success, financial situation, and leadership group.
Sharks Keys to Long-Term Success
“3 steps for sharks to become more competitive” -@BigBoiBennothy
I’ll be looking at this question for the Sharks’ next three years, as the team is marginally competitive for a playoff berth now. And, I’ll put on my general manager cap and try to make some realistic moves. Obviously, adding Connor McDavid, Cale Makar, and Andrei Vasilevskiy would make the team competitive, but I cannot see any of those moves being made.
Long term the Sharks have no top centers, besides perhaps Thomas Bordeleau, who could develop into more of a winger. So, my first step would be doubling down and finding a top center, and I would move on from the Sharks’ current best center, Tomas Hertl, to do so.
I would move the Czech center at the trade deadline to the Minnesota Wild. Marco Rossi would obviously be the target, but acquiring a top prospect Marat Khusnutdinov, on top of other assets, would give the Sharks a center who is already producing well at the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) level for a 19-year-old.
Without Hertl, the Sharks finish at the bottom part of the standings. With that pick, the Sharks could draft one five of the centers ranked in Peter Baracchini’s top-10 for the 2022 NHL Draft.
At defense, I think the Sharks are in good hands. Over the next three years, any of Mario Ferraro, Nikolai Knyzhov, Jacob Middleton, Santeri Hatakka, Artemi Kniazev, and Ryan Merkley can make up for the aging of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. With all those options, I would buyout Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s contract one of the next two offseasons to make room to afford all these defenseman.
In net, I would sign another free agent goalie to partner with Adin Hill. James Reimer is playing exceptionally so far this season, but his age makes him a non-option moving forward. There are plenty of free agent options over the next few years to add a starting goalie.
With an improved center core, acceptable blueline, and competent goaltending, the Sharks could be a threatening team.
What’s Hertl’s Future?
“Your thoughts on re-signing Hertl? My heart wants him to stay with the Sharks, but my brain thinks we should get all we can for him while we still can.” -@nickyicky_
I may have voiced my opinion in the previous questions, but it’s certainly a complex situation for the Sharks to decide on.
For one, Hertl has a limited no-trade clause. Currently, he can only be dealt to three teams of his choosing. While I would assume he would waive his clause, Doug Wilson could have extremely limited options at the Trade Deadline.
Next season, the Sharks have approximately $15-16 million in salary cap space. With Ferraro, Middleton, Knyzhov, and Jonathan Dahlen needing extensions, the Sharks may not have enough to extend Hertl at the possible $8 million AAV he could warrant.
The Sharks could move players to make salary cap space. For various reasons, Radim Simek, Kevin Labanc, and Evander Kane have lost status in the team’s lineup. Wilson trading any of these could give the club the necessary cap space to re-sign Hertl.
At 28 years old, Hertl is in a tough spot in the Sharks’ rebuild/retool. He likely has a few more years at an elite level, but with his history of knee injuries, who knows how long he can maintain a high level of play? He may begin regressing just as his team’s core of young players becomes competitive.
Related: Sharks’ Eklund Looks to Lead Sweden to World Junior Gold
So, I think it depends on how the Sharks see their window of opportunity. If Wilson believes his team can be competitive over the next three seasons, then keeping Hertl around makes the most sense. If not, I think it is best to trade Hertl for a large package including a first-round pick and/or a group of prospects.
It’s also worth noting Hertl’s situation probably depends on how long Wilson sees his leash as GM. A center core of aging an aging Couture and Nick Bonino with unproven Jasper Weatherby and Lane Pederson will not make the Sharks competitive nor sell tickets. If the club has to be competitive for the sake of ticket sales and Wilson’s job, Hertl will certainly be staying.
What Does this Season Mean For San Jose Long-Term?
“Given the sharks surprising competitiveness this year, would the team be better off making the playoffs or falling off and obtaining a higher lottery pick?” -@oldstylin
Currently, the Sharks sit sixth in the Pacific Division, and five points out of a Wild Card spot with games in hand of both current Wild Card teams. Unfortunately, there’s also three teams between the Sharks and those Wild Card spots, with the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Los Angeles Kings having both more points and a better points-percentage than San Jose.
Looking the other direction, the team sits 11th-worst in the NHL. That would see the Sharks possess a 3.1% chance to select first-overall at the 2022 NHL Draft. More likely, the Sharks would select outside the top-10, where drafting a future star becomes trickier for Head of Scouting Doug Wilson Jr.
So, what should the Sharks do?
This question is harder to answer than one may think. The obvious answer may seem like the Sharks should plummet down the standings, select top three in the upcoming draft, pair him with William Eklund, and become way more competitive in the years to come.
However, the Sharks are facing a probable financial problem. In late 2020, the San Jose hockey team became fearful of Google’s expansion into the city’s downtown area where SAP Center resides. In a letter to the fans, the organization noted their discussions with the city have “yielded limited results and the planners of these projects appear intent on moving forward in a manner that could force the Sharks out of San Jose.”
Additionally, attendance has been minimal. I do not believe this is due to the stadium’s vaccination requirement, as Santa Clara County has 80% of its residents vaccinated.
The area’s hesitancy to return to packed arenas coupled with two seasons of poor on-ice performance sees the Sharks 29th in NHL attendance. Averaging just over 12,000 fans per-game, the Sharks fill just under-70% of their stadium according to ESPN. For refence, SAP Center averaged 98% attendance when they last made the playoffs in 2018-19.
With this in mind, I would say the Sharks could really use a playoff berth. Increased attendance and optimism for the Sharks could do wonders for the financial stability of the team.
“Chances Ferraro eventually becomes the C? Yes, he’s a great locker room guy, but I just don’t see the upside in him to be at a Pavelski, Couture, level player.” -@m_rovell03
In his third year in the NHL, Ferraro has already become a fan-favorite, alternate captain, and respected presence in the locker room. He’s been the perfect presence to connect the young players such as Dahlen, Middleton, and Weatherby to the larger group of veterans.
He also plays the style of hockey most coaches yearn for. He’s defensively sound, physical on opposing forwards, and never afraid to step in front of shots. But, as noted, he’s not the All-Star talents that captains Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton are.
For me, new NHL captains need to have all of the following: a large role on the team, strong leadership qualities, respect of coaching staff and teammates, and long-term stability with the club. When Ferraro signs an extension in the upcoming offseason, the former University of Massachusetts-Amherst student will have all those boxes checked.
However, current captain Couture had all those qualities when he took over from Pavelski ahead of the 2019-20 season. The 32-year-old’s contract lasts through the 2026-27 NHL season, meaning San Jose would likely have to strip him of the captaincy to give the role to Ferraro. Unless the Sharks face two-three more years of horrid on-ice results I cannot see the Sharks stripping Couture of the ‘C’ for Ferraro.
Hockey is Back
The Sharks will be without Dahlen and Hertl in their matchup against the Coyotes tonight. Despite those absences, San Jose should look to get back in the winner’s column against one of the league’s worst opponents.
After hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 30, the Sharks will hit the road for a four-game Eastern Conference road trip. Those tough games will better show the team’s ability after a lay-off for the majority of the lineup to get healthier.
To be in the next Sharks mailbag, be sure to follow my Twitter, @JoshFrojelin. What did you think of my take on the team’s future? Let me know in the comment section below!