This season, the San Jose Sharks’ first two lines have been instrumental to the team’s improvement. A resurgent Timo Meier has primarily sparked this, with his team-leading 34 points in 28 games. The Swiss winger is the team’s only skater above a point-per-game.
Equally as important have been the Sharks’ top two centers. Logan Couture, usually stapled to Meier, has 12 goals and 29 points through 32 games. The captain has been a mainstay on the team’s top power play and penalty kill.
Then, there’s Tomas Hertl. After a slow start, he just ended an eight-game point streak, which included eight goals and four assists. His current pace would see him finish his ninth season in teal with 40 goals and 62 points.
However, Hertl finishing 2021-22 in a Sharks’ uniform is far from a guarantee. Top line centers and 30+ goal-scorers are a hot commodity in the NHL. Possibly, a commodity San Jose cannot afford when Hertl becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
If the Sharks cannot sign the 28-year-old Czech to an extension, they will have to trade the fan favorite for a high price. However, I do not think the Sharks’ decision on Hertl is as simple as many see it. General manager Doug Wilson’s decision on his future will have massive impacts on the team’s financial situation, locker room chemistry, and long-term future.
Recent Seasons Reflected in Ticket Sales
It is no secret if you have attended any Sharks home game or been mindful of SAP Center’s crowd at any game this season, as the team’s ticket sales have plummeted. In 2018-19 the Sharks averaged 17,266 fans per home game, which is 98.3% of their stadium’s capacity.
Now in 2021-22, in the midst of a pandemic and on the heels of two seasons of poor performance, the Sharks sales have fallen. The club sells under 70% of their tickets, and average just 12,186 tickets sold per home game.
In an article for The Athletic, Scott Burnside calculated in 2019-20 that the average NHL team garnered $1.3-million per home game, based on an average attendance of over 17,000 and average ticket of about $76. When taking out the average expenses per game, including electrical bills, concession staff, ushers, etc. a team can expect about $1.5-million per game should they sell the average amount of tickets (from ‘NHL financial impact: How much money does a team bring in each home game?,’ The Athletic, Mar. 13, 2020).
In fact, I would speculate the Sharks already struggled to make an average amount. Unlike most teams, the organization does not own their own stadium, and instead lease SAP Center until at least 2025. The City of San Jose owns the arena. Thus, the Sharks likely do not receive the near-$17,000 most teams receive each home game from parking revenue.
If the Sharks continue to sell just over 12,000 tickets this season, generously placing their average ticket price at 76 dollars, they will rake in only $912,000 per game. With the venue operating at full capacity and surrounding Santa Clara County already 85% vaccinated, I would place the lion’s share of the empty seats as a reflection of the past two seasons of Sharks hockey.
Trading Hertl only hurts the on-ice performance of the Sharks for the upcoming seasons. Without one of their best players and fan-favorites, the Sharks place in future standings and ticket sales would likely fall. When considering a potential Hertl trade, future revenue and financial stability are at stake.
Options to Replace Hertl this Season
The Sharks’ on-ice product would certainly take a hit should Hertl be moved before the NHL’s Trade Deadline on Mar. 21, 2022. When the team’s leading goal scorer concludes enters free agency, I would anticipate he see his average salary be around $8 million. That is a figure the Sharks cannot afford with Mario Ferraro and Jonathan Dahlen needing raises among others next season unless the team moves some of their expensive contracts.
Internally, the team has limited options to replace Hertl for this season. When Hertl was projected to miss their first game after the NHL’s pause, due to COVID protocol, Nick Bonino was expected to slot into the second-line center.
After producing around a half-point per game the last two seasons, the 33-year-old has five goals and one assist in 32 games this year. While the veteran’s primary responsibility is defending opposing top-sixes and killing penalties, scoring less points than Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jacob Middleton, and Jasper Weatherby is not acceptable for a middle-six forward.
Speaking of Weatherby, the 24-year-old rookie has two goals and six points in 29 games on the fourth line. I would not expect Weatherby to make much more of an NHL impact than that, I think the Sharks view him as the 4C of the future, who can chip in on both special team’s units eventually.
In the American Hockey League (AHL), the club has two centers that have produced decently well. Scott Reedy, 22 years old, leads the San Jose Barracuda with 14 goals and 23 points in 23 games. The University of Minnesota alumnus had nothing to show in his two NHL games of experience on the fourth line this year.
Nick Merkley, currently on the Sharks roster, netted six goals and 16 points in 19 AHL games. He had a goal and three points in seven games at the NHL level. However, both he and Reedy were used as wingers in their NHL action this season.
The drop-off from Hertl and Couture to the team’s next best center is huge should the Sharks have to finish the season without their alternate captain.
Currently, in their prospect pool, I can only foresee two prospects with the potential to reach the level of a quality NHL center. However, both are not guaranteed to even become centers at the NHL level.
The first, Thomas Bordeleau, who just turned 20 years old. The 5-foot-10 centerman plays a second-line role at the University of Michigan, where he’s notched six goals and 19 points in 18 games at the college level. He’s fifth in team scoring, behind top NHL prospects like Matty Beniers and Owen Power.
After two seasons producing at a high level, I would suspect Bordeleau to turn professional after the 2021-22 season. However, he may end up at least starting his career as a center. As a smaller body, who especially succeeds on the power play, the American has the tools to be an impactful offensive forward.
The other would be the 2021 seventh-overall pick, William Eklund. After producing over a half-point per game at the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) level as a winger, Doug Wilson Jr. surprised many by projecting the Swede as a center. Unfortunately, he has been placed on the wing this SHL season by Djurgardens IF.
He was iced as a center at the World Junior Championships. Unfortunately, all three of his assists through two games of action came on the power play. Even at the Sharks’ rookie camp, and prospect scrimmage, Eklund was only used as a winger.
Still just 19 years old, Eklund can eventually switch to center. Notably, Hertl began his NHL career as a winger alongside Joe Thornton before later transitioning to center. Currently, Eklund has just five assists in nine SHL games on his league-worst team that is likely to be relegated this season.
Both forwards are smaller, shifty, and playmaking forwards that could be better utilized as wingers to at least begin their NHL careers.
Trading Hertl Commits Team to Rebuild
While it may seem obvious, the Sharks will be forced into losses, the bottom part of the standings, and lottery selections for at least a few years should the team trade Hertl. As the team’s leader in goals on the power play and at even strength and shooting percentage, he carries a huge load for the club offensively.
His 13 even-strength goals on the season are tied-sixth in the NHL and are above star players like Auston Matthews, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Alex Debrincat. Trading Hertl would lessen the Sharks already struggling offence, which is 20th in the league in goals-per-game.
Hertl prevents San Jose from poor performances for years to come. While committing to a rebuild could maximize the team’s potential in the future, it would harm the Sharks’ already underwhelming ticket revenue.
What do you make of the Sharks potentially trading Hertl? Let me know in the comment section below!
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Josh is a young writer from the Bay Area, who now studies journalism at San Diego State University. In addition to covering the Sharks and Gulls for THW, Josh is a crossover scout at FCHockey and covers his school’s hockey team at TheDailyAztec. When not obsessing over hockey, Josh loves blasting music with friends, theatre, and playing with his dog. Follow Josh on Twitter for his latest takes on the Sharks, Gulls, and NHL Draft!