Sharks News & Rumors: Signings, Jones, Entry Draft & Expansion

The San Jose Sharks have had a quiet offseason so far after missing the playoffs for the second straight season following a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Honda West Division. Although he might not be as busy as other general managers around the NHL this summer, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson still has his fair share of decisions to make leading up to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, including preparing the team’s protection list for expansion, shedding some money off the salary cap, and making key roster decisions ahead of next season. All that makes for some recent news & rumors surrounding the Sharks.

Sharks Re-Sign Matt Nieto & Sign 3 Others

The biggest piece of news to come out of the Sharks organization was the announcement of forward Matt Nieto re-signing with the team, inking a two-year deal worth $850,000 average annual value (AAV). The 28-year-old winger came back to the Sharks in 2020 for his second stint with the team after spending parts of four seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, and played in just 28 games this year, scoring five goals and two assists for seven points. He was a key player on the penalty kill, and has been touted as a “versatile” bottom-six forward.

Wilson said that re-signing Nieto was a way for the Sharks to keep a valuable depth piece on the roster, but the move likely aims to solve an expansion issue that the organization needed to address before July 21. With Nieto signed, this satisfies the exposure requirement that every team must have at least two forwards exposed to the Kraken that have played a certain number of NHL games, and are signed through the 2021-22 season. This move gives Wilson some flexibility in creating his protection list when the expansion draft rolls around. Before Nieto was re-signed, only captain Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc met that requirement, so having the option to expose Nieto instead of one of those forwards is a nice one to have.

However, the Sharks still need to expose one additional forward who meets those requirements and Wilson would prefer it not be one of the players mentioned above. So, he is going to have to re-sign another free-agent forward to expose to the Kraken. Among the remaining candidates are forwards Dylan Gambrell, Marcus Sorensen, Patrick Marleau, and Ryan Donato. It’s expected that at least one of these players is signed to a new deal in the coming weeks, even if they are not expected to suit up in another game for the Sharks next season.

Matt Nieto, San Jose Sharks (Photo credit Zeke/THW)

In other signing news, the Sharks announced three minor signings all in the same day last week: forwards Jeffrey Viel and Jonathan Dahlen, and defenseman Nicolas Meloche, all signed one-year, $750,000 contracts, with Viel and Meloche inking two-way deals and Dahlen earning a one-way contract. Dahlen, originally an Ottawa Senators’ draft pick and a fairly high-rated prospect, has been playing for Timra in the Swedish second league for the last two seasons, but it’s speculated that he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL.

In 96 games played with Timra, Dahlen racked up a whopping 148 points, and was named Forward of the Year for both seasons he played with the team. The biggest plus that he could bring to the Sharks if he cracks the roster is undoubtedly his offensive upside. The team has been at a shortage of raw scoring power for a few seasons now, and it can’t hurt to give the young, speedy winger a shot to contribute and aid in reinvigorating some of the other forwards.

Martin Jones Buyout After Expansion Draft Looks Likely

It was fun while it lasted (sort of), but the Sharks’ goalie of the last half decade looks destined to part ways with the team following the expansion draft. The only reason Wilson and company haven’t pulled the plug quite yet is again because of, you guessed it, satisfying expansion requirements. After July 21, it would make sense for the Sharks to buy out Martin Jones.

The Sharks must expose one goalie to the Kraken, and Jones is almost certainly going to be that goalie. Wilson is expected to protect Josef Korenar, the 23-year-old Czech goalie who played in 10 games for the Sharks this season and posted better numbers than Jones, while hopeful goalie prospect of the future Alexei Melnichuk is exempt from the expansion draft.

Despite nearly nine months during the COVID-19 pandemic to train and recover from a poor 2019-20 season and prepare for this season, Jones did not take a step forward as many expected him to, but instead fell into the same rhythms as seasons past — underachieving and underperforming. In the 2020-21 season, he played in 34 games, posting a record of 15-13-4, and recording a 3.28 goals-against average (GAA) and .896 save percentage (SV%) with one shutout. This was the third straight season in which he had exactly an .896 SV%, and the second straight season his GAA exceeded 3.00. These numbers, along with the team’s inability to ice a capable backup for Jones, have likely cost him his starting job, and his contract.

Martin Jones San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jones is signed for three more seasons at $5.75 million AAV, with a modified no-trade clause attached to the deal. When the Sharks signed him to an extension in the summer of 2017, they were just one year removed from making it to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in Jones’ first season with the team, where they eventually lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. No one could have imagined the colossal drop off he would undergo over the next several seasons, at least not as fast as it ultimately happened.

With three more years left on his contract, the buyout length for Jones would be six years. There is $15 million remaining on his contract, so the Sharks would have to pay Jones $1,666,667 through the 2026-27 season.

Sharks Have Options With 7th-Overall Pick

It will be a quick turnaround from the expansion draft on July 21 to the entry draft on July 23, as the Sharks will have just two days to shift gears and prepare for their highest first-round selection in years, and for the rest of their picks. The organization has the seventh-overall pick, and rarely draft this high in the first round, so they must take advantage of this position. What they really need to focus on, in my opinion, is selecting a speedy, skilled forward who can score goals and be an offensive threat on this team for years to come. Luckily for them, they are at no shortage of players fitting that description.

The 2021 Draft has been called a “wash” by NHL analysts, since this year of COVID-19 has complicated the scouting process and blurred the lines a bit between which players should be ranked where in official draft rankings. Teams have had to rely primarily on video scouting this season, but the Sharks should still have their pick of the litter, so to speak, when it comes to forward prospects projected to make an impact at the NHL level.

Among the forwards who could be available at seventh overall are Mason McTavish, a center from EHC Olten in the Swiss league; Dylan Guenther, a winger from the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League (WHL); and Kent Johnson, a center from the University of Michigan in the NCAA. There’s also a possibility that some players such as William Eklund and Fabian Lysell, both of the Swedish Hockey League, could fall to the Sharks, but they shouldn’t count on it.

The Sharks will also likely have some top-end defensive prospects available to them at seventh overall, but if I were in Wilson’s shoes, I would stray from drafting another defensemen and, in this case, draft for positional need. Although it’s not the best reason, the Sharks’ hands are tied with the long, expensive contracts many of their defensemen currently have, so it might be difficult to fit a new one in, making a forward the logical draft choice.

Other Sharks News & Rumors

In other Sharks news, forward Fredrik Handemark signed a deal in Russia’s KHL, heading for Europe instead of staying in North America and hoping to get picked up by an NHL team. The 27-year-old joined the Sharks a little over a year ago when he signed his entry-level contract in May 2020, and spent most of this past season as a member of the Sharks’ Taxi Squad. He was involved in 25 separate transactions over the span of four months as a Taxi Squad member. Handemark only made his way into eight NHL games in 2020-21, collecting just one goal and averaging 9:27 ice time per night on the team’s bottom lines.

The Sharks’ AHL affiliate Barracuda have been busy, signing forwards Joe Garreffa, Krystof Hrabik, and Kyle Topping to one-year extensions, and dipping into the free-agent market to sign a pair of WHL players: Portland Winterhawks captain Nick Cicek, and Kamloops Blazers player Montana Onyebuchi.

The coming weeks should be anything but boring when it comes to the Sharks, and this summer’s expansion and entry drafts should give fans a good idea about the direction of this team — and hopefully plenty of reasons to be excited for next season. Wilson will certainly have his hands full in the month of July, so there will be a lot to keep an eye on.

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