Sharks Need to Embrace a Full Rebuild at the 2021-22 Trade Deadline

The San Jose Sharks find themselves in a position where they are unlikely to make the 2021-22 playoffs for the third consecutive season. Based on this, the team will likely be sellers at the trade deadline once again, so the question is, what should the team do? Curious what Sharks’ fans thought of the options to complete a full rebuild, competitive rebuild, a retool, or to do nothing, I put this poll on twitter.

I think this is representative of what a lot of fans think, the best option is a full tear down. I’ll make the case why I think that is the best option too. A competitive rebuild is what I would interpret that the Sharks have done the last three seasons and the results speak for themselves. They were not a playoff team and aren’t particularly close. I think the options of making shrewd moves or doing nothing represent fan fears that the Sharks will attempt to acquire another aging veteran on a long contract or sign him to an expensive contract like they did with Erik Karlsson. The Sharks do have a history of making some pretty awful trade deadline deals, though the Karlsson one was not one of those.

Modest Improvement is Not Enough for the Sharks

According to Hockey Reference, the Sharks’ points percentage was .450 in 2019-20 and .438 in 2020-21. So far in 2021-22, their points percentage is .522. An improvement, but still not good enough. From 2015-19, when they consistently made the playoffs, their points percentages, in chronological order were .598, . 604, .610, and .616. Getting points on around 60% of your games seems to be an important mark that the Sharks are just not quite able to reach as they are currently constructed.

Related: Sharks’ 20 All-Time Worst Draft Picks

There is certainly an argument to be made that the Sharks deserve better this season, and if they had a few more wins already, the situation may be different. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks are 24th in the league in combined shooting percentage and save percentage commonly known as PDO. Their number is .991 and most teams tend to average close to one. One reason for their low PDO is their lack of finishing. 

San Jose Sharks Finishing in 2021-22 in All Situations courtesy of

According to Evolving Hockey, the Sharks are 15th in expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60), though their actual goals scored per 60 minutes (GF/60) has them ranked 24th. If they were closer to the middle of the pack in their finishing ability, they would be even closer to a bubble playoff team. According to the visualization from Hockey Viz, the only metric in which the Sharks are finishing better than expected are slap shots. This may be due to a screen in front of the goalie or a cross-ice pass prior to the shot. For wrist shots, snap shots, tips, deflections, and backhand shots, the Sharks are not converting nearly as many goals as they should.

Regardless of whether or not they should have a few more wins, the reality is that it would not bring the Sharks close enough to the threshold of being a playoff team. Not to mention that they don’t have the pieces to go on a long playoff run even if they do make the playoffs. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not just to make the playoffs and the Sharks, as they are currently constructed, really aren’t that close to contending. To accomplish the goal of winning the Cup, they really need to tear the team down and rebuild it from the ground up. They have a good start with a strong prospect pool and their pick in the first round of this year’s draft should be a high pick as well.

Retool Capped

The biggest reason why a re-tool won’t work is that the Sharks have too much money tied up in aging players that are underperforming. The Sharks have 42.3% of their salary cap tied up in Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Burns will be an unrestricted free agent the earliest of this group, but that isn’t until after the 2024-25 season.

Sharks’ defenders Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson RAPM charts for 2021-22 courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Couture has certainly contributed at both ends of the ice this season and Karlsson’s offense has re-emerged. Karlsson’s defense, on the other hand, continues to struggle, as can be seen by the expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) and Corsi against per 60 minutes (CA/60). In fact, Kalrsson is one of the worst defenders in CA/60 on the team. Only Burns and rookies Ryan Merkley and Santeri Hatakka are worse, though theirs is in a more limited sample size. 

Brent Burns San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though it is true that Burns and Karlsson typically play against tougher competition, Mario Ferraro and Jacob Middleton are seeing tougher minutes and doing better with it. Merkley sees the easier competition so his struggles are of more concern. Burns, for his part, has really struggled defensively this season, and his limited offense is has been partially a factor of luck as you can see by the discrepancy between the goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60) and his expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60).

Not only do the Sharks have these aforementioned four players taking up 42.3% of their salary cap, but they need to pay both Tomas Hertl and Ferraro this off season, and Timo Meier next offseason. At least both Ferraro and Meier are restricted free agents, but both are going to need significant raises. Hertl’s expiring contract was quite the bargain and his next contract, if the Sharks re-sign him, will probably be worth more than Couture’s who signed an eight year $64 million deal in the summer of 2018 worth $8 million per season.

Tomas Hertl San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Sharks sign Hertl to an $8 million dollar contract, which I think is a bargain for his services, it will mean the team has 52.1% of their salary cap tied up in Couture, Hertl, Burns, Karlsson, and Vlasic. That will absolutely limit their ability to both attract free agents and improve their team via trade. This means they will be reliant on their prospect pool or making shrewd moves like when they signed Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano. Though those were decent moves, they aren’t going to win you a Stanley Cup, unless you have a lot of other skilled players to surround them with.

Sharks Need to Capitalize

The Sharks currently have several high value assets that they should turn into rebuilding pieces. Those include the aforementioned Hertl, Ferraro, Meier, Bonino, and Cogliano but also Alexander Barabanov, Matt Nieto, and Jacob Middleton. The players are obviously not in the same stratosphere and trading them would cause various levels of consternation amongst the fanbase so let’s start with the easy ones.

Nick Bonino San Jose Sharks
Nick Bonino, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bonino, Cogliano, and Nieto should be as good as gone. All of these players are older, on reasonably good contracts, and providing benefit for the team. They can be useful to a contending team, but are really just helping the Sharks tread water and won’t push them over the top. If the Sharks hold on to them past this season, there is no guarantee they will continue to be this useful and in the case of Cogliano, he will need a new deal after this season. The fact that Nieto and Bonino have another year on their deal make them a nice cost controlled asset for a competing team.

Barabanov and Middleton have been pleasant surprises this season for sure. Neither has an expensive contract and the Sharks certainly could sign them both to reasonable, multi-year contracts without breaking the bank. Barabanov is an unrestricted free agent so he could generate considerable interest from other teams and the Sharks have less leverage over him. They could certainly trade him as a rental before the deadline if they don’t think they can get him to agree to a good deal. Middleton is a restricted free agent so the Sharks could sign him and then trade him if they wanted to maximize their return. These two are a bit more tricky, but the Sharks could and should get valuable pieces for each at the deadline.

Mario Ferraro San Jose Sharks
Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The last group of Hertl, Ferraro, and Meier each have very different considerations around them. Hertl has been a heart and soul leader for the team since he arrived in San Jose in 2013-14. He has been between a 60-80 point player the last few season, but at 28-years-old he is exiting his prime and has knee injury history that could limit his longevity. Because of his age and how much he might cost, paying to keep Hertl in San Jose is a mistake. The Sharks could fetch a fortune for Hertl on the market as teams are clamoring for his services. It is possible that even if the Sharks trade him, he could re-sign with the team in the offseason in a win-win for both sides.

Ferraro has emerged as a top pairing defender for the team. He plays the most minutes for the Sharks behind only Burns and is arguably more effective in his minutes. He is in the last year of his entry-level contract, so the Sharks could sign him to a bridge deal or a long term extension. At 23 years old, he is entering his prime. Unfortunately, those prime years are going to be wasted playing for bad teams that likely will continue to not make the playoffs. The Sharks should trade him now and reap the rewards that a young, top-pairing defender can bring.

Timo Meier San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Meier is having the breakout season Sharks fans have been hoping for since he was drafted. I’m sure many fans will think this take is outlandish, but let’s try to be rational here. Meier is on a team-friendly deal of $6 million per season until the end of the 2023-24 season. At that point he will be a restricted free agent. Unless he signs a one or two year deal, he will be looking to make more than Couture and frankly, he has earned that raise. If the Sharks continue to be a bottom of the pack team that isn’t likely to compete for a Cup in the next few season, they are probably better off trading Meier at the height of his value (now) for as much as they can get.

While it may be difficult to imagine a Sharks team without Hertl, Meier, and Ferraro, imagine the top picks and young players the Sharks could acquire for those three. Not to mention the picks and middle-tier assets they could acquire for Barabanov, Nieto, and Middleton. Sure, the team won’t be very good trading away those players, but the reality is that they aren’t very good right now. If they want to break the cycle of being worse than mediocre that has plagued them the last three seasons, they need to act swiftly and decisively. Be bold at this trade deadline and the future will be bright.

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