Tomas Hertl is a top 15-20 center in the NHL. His 2.42 5v5 points per 60 minutes scoring rate puts him in elite company. For reference, his rate of 5v5 scoring was above the likes of Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog, John Tavares, and Evgeni Malkin in 2020-21.
Hertl made a name for himself in the 2018-19 season as the top-scoring San Jose Sharks’ forward with 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. His only All-Star selection came in 2019-20, where he finished with 16 goals and 36 points in 48 games. In 2020-21, he scored 19 goals and 43 points in 50 games with San Jose.
His recent stellar performance came while battling lower-body injuries that have greatly hurt his career, overcoming an infection of COVID-19, and putting up great defensive results. Per JFresh’s model, Hertl is in the top 10 percent of NHLers in his impact on offense and defense at even strength.
But now, things are souring between Hertl and the Sharks. Per The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, the Czech center was one of multiple players to complain about Evander Kane in meetings at the conclusion of last season. Reportedly the 2012 first-rounder is yet to be approached by his team about a contract extension.
His bridge deal at a bargain $5.625 million annual average value (AAV) expires after the 2021-22 season. Hertl has been cited as saying he will begin next season with San Jose. However, there appears to be very little confidence he will remain in teal for the duration of the upcoming season.
So, what does this mean for Hertl? If Doug Wilson is delaying his talks about contract extensions, there is a strong possibility the general manager lacks faith in his current team and foresees a possible trade at the next trade deadline. If the Sharks are rebuilding, they could receive quality future assets for him. I would liken a possible Hertl trade to Matt Duchene’s trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 Trade Deadline. The Ottawa Senators netted a first-round pick and some low-level prospects from this trade.
Another possible comparison could be to the Vegas Golden Knights’ acquisition of Max Pacioretty. This deal saw the Montreal Canadiens add a second-round pick, a solid forward in Tomas Tatar, and a potential first-line center in Nick Suzuki.
The Sharks’ prospect pool needs quality talent at center and right-handed defense. Down the middle, San Jose has William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau, whose playstyles and size may work better as wingers. The team’s only notable right-handed prospects to replace the aging Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are Ryan Merkley and Gannon Laroque. The club should be looking for talent at these positions in possible trades.
So, with that in mind, who has the need for Hertl, and what would their potential offer for Hertl look like?
In my mind, the Minnesota Wild are the most likely candidate to acquire Hertl. They have stellar wingers such as Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, but besides Joel Eriksson Ek, the team’s center depth lacks tremendous upside. In a tough Central Division, the Wild need all the help they can get.
The tricky part with Minnesota rests in their cap space long term. The team, per CapFriendly, has $12 million in cap space with Kaprizov bound to sign a large extension soon. However, Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Victor Rask, and Alex Goligoski all have contracts that expire after the upcoming season. This makes affording Hertl long term slightly tricky.
But, the Wild certainly have numerous attractive assets that would entice the Sharks. Their recent highly-touted first-round picks of Jesper Wallstedt, Marco Rossi, and Matthew Boldy are quality assets, but would be hard to give up for Minnesota.
A recent selection that the Sharks would have interest in would be Marat Khusnutdinov. The center fits the mold of many Doug Wilson, Jr. draft picks: smaller, skilled, and offensively gifted. Khusnutdinov was also selected 37th overall in 2020, one spot ahead of when the Sharks selected the also small and skilled Bordeleau. The Wild also have numerous, interesting defensive prospects such as Calen Addison, Carson Lambos, and Jack Peart.
The Wild’s need for centers, current cap space for taking on Hertl with retained salary, and plethora of intriguing prospects make them my most likely destination for him. For a mock trade, I’ll suggest Khustadinov and 2022 first-round pick for Hertl. There may be a need for salary to be moved for the Wild to extend the Czech center long term.
With David Krejci leaving the NHL for a return to the Czech Republic, the Boston Bruins could really use a boost to their center depth. A 1-2 punch of Patrice Bergeron and Hertl would really elevate the Bruins’ odds in a tough Eastern Conference.
However, similar to the Sharks a couple years ago, the Bruins lack a wealth of future assets. Their 21st-overall selection in 2021 of Fabian Lysell had us at THW proclaiming the Swedish winger as the steal of the draft, but after him their prospect pool really becomes underwhelming.
The 2020 second-round pick Mason Lohrei is an attractive candidate, but the Sharks’ depth at left defense with Mario Ferraro, Nikolai Knyzhov, Artemi Kniazev, and Santeri Hatakka is set for the future. John Beecher, 30th-overall pick in 2019 and teammate of Bordeleau at the University of Michigan, would be a possible piece in a Hertl trade. However, he’s far from a guarantee to slot into a large role in an NHL lineup, which is what San Jose needs.
Boston has their first- and second-round picks in the upcoming drafts, if the Sharks want to to target draft capital in the 2022 or 2023 NHL Drafts. The main issue in trading with the Bruins lies in their lacking cap space. Even if the Sharks retain a portion of Hertl’s contract, Boston would still need to move out salary to make a trade work. This trade would also solely be a rental for the Bruins, unless they view Hertl as the replacement for Bergeron, whose contract also expires after the upcoming season. Top defenseman Charlie McAvoy is also in need of a large raise in the next offseason.
Tentatively, I would present a mock trade from the Bruins as Beecher, a 2022 first-round pick, and a low-level prospect or late pick for Hertl with salary retention. There would be a need for more salary to be moved from Boston, which could potentially be part of this trade.
After a Stanley Cup Final loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens’ offseason has not instilled much confidence that they will return. Their most recent debacle is Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s offer sheet from the Carolina Hurricanes, which could see the Canadiens lose both of their middle-six centers in the span of just over a month.
Hertl could fill the void the Finnish center leaves in Montreal. The Canadiens would also have an extra first- and third-round pick in 2022 at their disposal if Marc Bergevin declines to match the offer sheet.
Ryan Poehling would be the first name to come to mind in a potential deal with the Habs. The 2017 25th-overall pick has not quite lived up to the hype of a first-round pick, especially after a hat trick in his NHL debut in 2019. The American center had just two points in 27 NHL games, but notched a respectable 11 goals and 25 points in 28 American Hockey League (AHL) games.
The other intriguing center prospect would be Jan Mysak, 2020 48th-overall pick. The Czech youngster finished over a point-per-game in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2019-20, before struggling to really score in the Czech professional league and AHL last season.
Affording an extension for Hertl could also be a bit of a struggle for the Canadiens. Some great talent, namely Suzuki, will be needing contract extensions soon, so affording the 27-year-old’s contract extension could be unlikely. If I had to give a mock trade, I would speculate Poehling, a 2022 first-round pick, and an additional smaller asset could return Hertl with retained salary.
Vegas Golden Knights
To be abundantly clear for the comment section frequenters, I think this is by far the least likely option. A team sending their best player to a huge rival is quite unlikely. If the Sharks and Knights were not in the same division, I feel the two teams could make a deal here.
The Golden Knights have been a competitive team since entering the league, competing in the Conference Final in three of their four NHL seasons. And Vegas has young centers such as Peyton Krebs and recently acquired Nolan Patrick to help their depth up the middle. But for a contending team, a center core that boasts William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson as their best contributors could be what prevents them from a Stanley Cup.
The Sharks would need to retain salary on Hertl, and perhaps take on another contract from Vegas, due to their salary cap situation. Hertl could likely sign an extension if dealt here, due to large contracts soon leaving the Knights’ payroll.
In a Hertl trade, adding Peyton Krebs should certainly be the goal, but I’m not quite sure it’s attainable. The 17th-overall pick dominated the Western Hockey League (WHL) with 13 goals and 43 points in 24 games, before turning professional and notching a goal and five points in five games.
The other notable prospect would be a linemate of Bordeleau at Michigan — 2020 29th-overall pick Brendan Brisson has the capability to slot as a center, but played as a winger in Ann Arbor where he put up 10 goals and 21 points in 24 games. For a mock trade, I’ll present two for the Golden Knights. The first would be Krebs and a second- or third-round pick in exchange for Hertl. Second, would be a more likely acquisition of a first-round pick and Brisson for San Jose. Again, an intra-division dealing of Hertl is extremely unlikely.
Sharks Must Win a Hertl Trade
As I outlined in a recent piece, affording Hertl long term would be tricky for the Sharks. The club will also have to extend key blueliners Nikolai Knyzhov and Mario Ferraro next offseason, which could cost a significant sum. Again, Hertl will likely begin the 2021-22 season with the team. Who knows, he could sign an extension at training camp or midseason should he have confidence in a Sharks return to the postseason.
However, if the Sharks appear to be beginning a long-term rebuild, or decide extending Hertl is not financially viable, the fan favorite will be traded away. In that trade, the Sharks must acquire future assets to improve the team and hopefully the eventual replacement for Hertl.
What do you think of my mock trades? Where do you think Hertl finishes the 2021-22 season? Let me know in the comments!
Josh Frojelin is a young writer from the Bay Area. Josh grew up as a Sharks fan, being introduced to hockey by his father. He is now attached to his phone, waiting to hear the latest in hockey news. In addition to writing, Josh loves theatre, and his corgi Rocky.