The Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinals by the Montreal Canadiens in six games. While San Jose Sharks fans applaud their friends up North for preventing the rival Golden Knights from reaching the Cup Final, the loss leaves Vegas, and many other teams, with more large decisions to make this offseason.
Vegas, unlike past Stanley Cup Champions, lacks an elite first-line center. In fact, I’d argue the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and other 2021 playoff teams would be much better off if they had a dominant first-line center. The last Stanley Cup champions have all had a marquee force up the middle like Brayden Point, Ryan O’Reilly, Niklas Backstrom, or Sidney Crosby.
While the headline big-fish center on the market is Jack Eichel, teams may look to San Jose to fill their void up the middle to surge their team toward the Stanley Cup contention.
Hertl’s Ability and Value
Tomas Hertl is San Jose’s best center, and if Evander Kane wasn’t coming off a career year, you could easily argue he’s the team’s best player. Hertl, 27 years old, is a dynamic, strong, two-way center. He centers the top line of both special teams units for the club.
Hertl often slots with lesser linemates than Logan Couture. The most common line this year for the captain was with Kane and Kevin Labanc. That line, with, in my opinion, the team’s first and third-best wingers, controlled 53% of expected goals on the ice. Hertl’s most common line of Timo Meier and Rudolfs Balcers controlled 68% of expected goals. The captain’s line was often given tougher opposition, but this wide margin is largely due to Hertl’s dominance.
He led the team in 2020-21 with an average of 2.4 points-per-60 minutes at 5-on-5. His relative expected goals percentage indicates the Sharks were 9% better at controlling scoring chances with Hertl on the ice vs. without him. Per MoneyPuck, he was the best Shark in this metric.
His career-high in points and goals came in the Sharks’ dominant 2018-19 regular season, when he scored 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. The Czech center totaled 19 goals and 43 points in 50 games this season. His RAPM chart via Evolving-Hockey indicates he was an above-average defensive and offensive talent at even strength this season despite lingering injury and recovering from COVID-19.
With one year remaining on his contract at a bargain $5.625 million cap hit, Hertl would command a pretty penny on the open market. I would compare a potential Hertl trade to the Arizona Coyotes acquiring Taylor Hall or the Columbus Blue Jackets acquiring Matt Duchene. A first-round pick, potential later picks, and possible young roster players.
Can Doug Wilson Afford to Keep Hertl?
As I outlined, Hertl is an extremely effective player. The Sharks’ 2012 first-round pick sees his bridge contract expire next offseason and will be 28 when an unrestricted free agent. He will command a hefty salary.
I would roughly estimate Hertl demands a salary of between $7 million and $7.75 million given the flat salary cap of the NHL. His term could range anywhere from five to seven years in my opinion. Hertl has only played in San Jose, and mentioned in his final interview he plans to stay in San Jose, so general manager Doug Wilson could receive a small discount.
However, in the 2022 offseason, the Sharks will have to also give a significant raise to Mario Ferraro and extend John Leonard and Nikolai Knyzhov. With the large contracts of Kane, Couture, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Erik Karlsson being borderline if not completely unmovable, it’s hard to say if the Sharks will have the funds for Hertl.
And, Wilson needs to look at his past faults on his current payroll. He’s opted to retain fan favorites and team legends such as Vlasic, Couture, and Burns and has little funds remaining as a result. Should he risk another long-term deal on an injury-riddled player whose main asset is his ability to use strength to possess the puck?
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Also, I want to mention keeping the 27-year-old does not fit into the team’s window of contention. By the most optimistic of estimates, the Sharks are a few years from returning to being a true contender. By that time, Hertl would be in his early 30s and would begin to decline. Would an older Hertl be more effective than a first-round pick in helping the Sharks compete for the playoffs in five seasons?
Hertl’s Future: My Take
I think Hertl is too well-liked by management, teammates, and fans to be traded. If Couture was not locked down long-term and Mario Ferraro had not emerged as a fan favorite, I would see Hertl as a future captain. His age puts him nicely between veterans Burns, Karlsson, and Vlasic, and youngsters like Labanc and Meier.
His powerful legs allow him to possess the puck behind the net and on the boards very well, and he has a quality shot and sensational vision to tally points. He’s a good skater, and an effective force on the penalty kill.
However, I see few fits for a potential Hertl trade. The teams rumored to trade for Jack Eichel, due to the need for a center, include the Golden Knights, Wild, Los Angeles Kings, and other Western Conference teams. Most competitive Eastern teams have their elite center, and the optics of San Jose trading a fan favorite to a possible Pacific/West Division team are not great.
Do you think Hertl will remain in San Jose for the remainder of his career? Let me know in the comments below!
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.