The San Jose Sharks are in a precarious position this offseason, and justifiably so. With a number of questionable contracts – Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Édouard Vlasic – the club will have a hard time pulling in quality talent due to cap issues.
However, the Sharks recently announced that 25-year-old Kevin Labanc is available for trade. The winger has potential, but it’s clear that general manager Doug Wilson doesn’t see him as part of the team’s future. It’s uncertain what type of player(s) the Sharks could get in return for Labanc, but a third-line centerman and goaltender would be ideal.
That said, I am not convinced Labanc could get the quality of player(s) Wilson is looking for and here’s why.
The Sharks’ Announcement
The announcement that the Sharks are offering Labanc as a trade piece was not all that surprising or detailed, but it did clarify what Wilson is looking for in return: established talent. This could be good news; this could be bad news. It depends on your outlook.
Given the organization’s not-so-great situation, it would make sense to invest trade pieces in future assets and draft picks. This would indicate a full-on rebuild, but it seems this is not what the club intends to do. Instead, they are looking at something more like a reset for the 2021-2022 season, hoping to add to the core without trading off the best players for assets and picks.
Names that have been dangled as potential bait include Kevin Labanc, Radim Simek and Dylan Gambrell. The club would prefer to make a so-called “hockey deal,” a trade that involves established NHL players on both sides, but is also hoping to gain more picks in the upcoming draft — something that general manager Doug Wilson has already said he expects to achieve.-Kevin Kurz (from “Sources: Sharks ‘open for business’ when it comes to trade talks with teams,” The Athletic, 7/10/2021)
This strategy is in line with what Wilson suggested in March; that a “reset” was management’s intention. It’s hard to argue with him. The Blues finished with a subpar 21-28-7 record in 2020-21. It was not only the injuries that made it a tough season, but their top-four defenseman did not play up to their giant contracts (from “San Jose Sharks have loaded up on riskiest contracts in NHL, Karlsson, Burns and Vlasic,” The Edmonton Journal, 10/20/2020.) In net, Martin Jones has registered a .896 save percentage (SV%) the past three seasons. Such numbers will not lead to long-term success.
The prospect of moving Labanc is little consolation for a franchise that will struggle to find their way out from under contracts that have hamstrung their cap space and will continue to do so for years.
The Issue with Labanc
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to toss Labanc’s name into the trade market to see what teams are willing to give up in return. However, he is not going to bring the Sharks what they need, especially since his numbers have plummeted in the last two seasons.
He went from 17 goals and 39 assists for 56 points in the 2018-2019 season to just 14 goals and 19 assists for a total of 33 points the following season, and he was a minus-33. Last season, he potted 12 goals and 16 assists in 55 games, and he still has two years remaining on his contract. That’s not an attractive trend for teams hoping to snag a top-tier player.
The Boston Bruins could (or should) be interested in Labanc, according to Logan Mullen at NESN. While Mullen goes into some detail about what Labanc could add to the Bruins’ roster, he didn’t make any guesses at what the club would have to give up for him. This is likely not by accident.
Labanc should not leave the Bay Area for only future assets and draft picks; the Sharks already have the 7th overall pick in the 2021 Draft, and they need roster players who can immediately contribute. If the Bruins are a possible trade partner, perhaps Wilson would be interested in Charlie Coyle and/or Craig Smith (preferably the latter), judging by their numbers the past few seasons, but the Bruins likely won’t want to part with these solid contributors.
Offloading Smith might be a good idea for a club that is getting older. In return, Labanc would offer a bit of youth to the group. However, this doesn’t play well with the Sharks’ aging defensive corps. At the end of the day, Boston isn’t a very good trade partner, but Wilson may see something that the rest of us don’t.
It’s almost certain that teams around the league will be interested in Labanc, but he should not leave San Jose without the club knowing they are better than when he was on the roster. This is going to be a hard thing to do, but it’s not impossible. The main focus has to be on the teams willing to give up a quality centerman who is not on the back end of their career before Labanc is moved.
As with many young kids who grow up in the Midwest, CG played a lot of hockey. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks. But he writes other things, too, including a debut novel that is set to come out in July of 2021. You can find him on Twitter @TheLastSisyphus.