Sharks Have Few Options to Clear Cap Space this Offseason

The San Jose Sharks have faced many tough battles throughout the past decade. The infamous rivalry between the Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, the new, budding rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights, and numerous failed attempts to win the Stanley Cup highlight some of the most challenging struggles this franchise has dealt with. However, the most brutal fight the team has had comes from within the organization itself; the horrific lack of salary cap space.

While there are numerous causes for the recent decline of the Sharks, one of the most condemning issues management cultivated was their willingness to dish out hefty contracts. In the most recent year that the team made the playoffs, the main core was either in the early stages of a massive contract or on expiring deals. This issue has snowballed into the present day, and now, the Sharks are dealing with the consequences of bad contracts.

The Sharks’ Current Cap Situation

Now that the Sharks have been officially eliminated from this year’s playoffs, all eyes are on the 2022-23 season. The upcoming draft will offer a collection of talented players to choose from, and the free-agent market looks promising. However, the Sharks will be in a position where they can not fully partake in all this offseason has to offer, largely due to the limited cap space.

Erik Karlsson San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Right now, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl will eat up a little under $50 million next year. Considering how the salary cap for the 2022-23 season is $82.5 million, the Sharks have little wiggle room to get their upcoming free agents signed while also finding additional pieces to add to the team. As a result, they will need to try and find ways to free up some cap space if they want to make any progress next year.

Related: Sharks’ 2022 Free Agency Preview

The main issue the Sharks face this offseason is finding a way to get some of these big contracts off the books. While it may seem impossible, there are a few options that management will be able to explore. However, the trades the team decides to make will largely depend on whether the new general manager decides to rebuild or try and contend for the Stanely Cup.

Sharks Could Clear Cap Space to Contend

While many fans believe that trying to contend for the Stanley Cup is objectively the wrong decision at this point in time, the Sharks seem to disagree. Interim general manager Joe Will has already stated that he plans on continuing to push toward the playoffs. With that in mind, many of the current players on big contracts still contribute to the team’s success, which means that keeping them could benefit the Sharks’ odds of success. However, there is one main exception to that ideology.

Vlasic has been a significant part of the Sharks’ defensive core for a long time, but there is no doubt that his contributions have been declining for a while. Currently, he takes up $7 million in cap space until the 2026-27 season. However, despite his huge cap hit, he has only put up 14 points this season, and his plus/minus rating is a minus-22. He has been a liability in almost every way.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic San Jose Sharks
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The main issue with getting Vlasic’s contract off the books is that the Sharks would almost undoubtedly have to package him with prospects or high draft picks to get a team to bite. Teams like the Arizona Coyotes are desperate to take on terrible contracts for hefty returns, but Vlasic has a long time before his contract expires. If the Sharks are that desperate to win now, they will likely have to risk their long-term future to clear the cap space.

A Young Sharks Team Could Get Younger

Many young Sharks prospects are set to make their full-time jump to the NHL next season. William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and Brandon Coe have all proven that they deserve a chance to make the roster next year. While the team could play these young players with their older core, there is an opportunity for the Sharks to go full-rebuild mode and try to make a few moves to gather assets for the future.

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One option for the Sharks to look at this offseason is potentially trading Burns. While he has been the head of the defensive core for a long time, it seems like Karlsson will essentially be replacing him in that role. Karlsson is not only younger, but his contract is virtually immovable. If the team wants extra cap space, Burns could garner a return from a team looking to contend for the Stanley Cup. However, if they want a decent return, they need to act quickly before his value begins to plummet.

Related: Sharks Should Trade Burns this Offseason

Another option, while less likely, could be for the Sharks to trade Couture. He may be the captain, but he has one of the more swallowable contracts of the aging core. He undoubtedly has some value remaining, and the team could take advantage of that. He has one of the most prolonged contract durations of the current Sharks, which means there is plenty of time for his deal to age terribly. Now could be the time to jump on a Couture trade.

These potential trades would allow the Sharks to try and get younger while also freeing up cap space. The immovable contracts would stay with the team, but the young players would get more ice time with the remaining core. Either way, the Sharks have a lot of thinking to do this offseason. Doing nothing has gotten the franchise stuck in a weird limbo state. Now is the time to take action. Perhaps, with the right moves, they could be back in the playoffs sooner than anyone anticipated.

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