Sharks Face Tough Decision on Alexander Barabanov

At the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, the San Jose Sharks were possibly the most active team. They twice played the “middle-man,” taking on 25 percent of Matias Janmark’s and Nick Foligno’s contracts for draft compensation from teams that lacked cap space. For that money, the team added prospects Ethan Cardwell and Max McCue in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson also dealt depth defenseman Fredrik Claesson to the Tampa Bay Lightning for goaltender Magnus Chrona, who has performed well in a bounce-back season at the University of Denver. The Sharks also moved Devyn Dubnyk for a 2022 fifth-round pick.

But in trading possibly their least-valuable asset, Antti Suomela, the Sharks added their best piece. The team dealt the Finnish depth forward for Alexander Barabanov, who struggled to keep a roster spot on a quality Toronto Maple Leafs forward core.

Alexander Barabanov San Jose Sharks
Alexander Barabanov, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At the time, the deal seemed pretty irrelevant. The Sharks added a career Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) player who had just 15 games of North American hockey experience, including just one assist in 13 NHL games. But then, the Sharks unlocked the Russian’s full potential at the end of the 2020-21 season. On a line with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl, in addition to decent power-play time, he had three goals and seven points in nine games to conclude his first NHL season.

Including me, many were skeptical that Barabanov could continue that success in 2021-22. He would no longer be paired with red-hot Kane and Hertl. After all, he started the season as a healthy scratch despite having a $1 million contract.

Sharks’ Need for Top-Six Help

The club’s top six was a revolving door of wingers last season. Besides Kane, who is no longer with the team, the wingers for the top-two lines included Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Rudolfs Balcers, Ryan Donato, John Leonard, Matt Nieto, Patrick Marleau, Ivan Chekhovich, among others who were given chances.

Besides Meier and Balcers when healthy, none of those players have made a large impact on the team this season. Rookies William Eklund and Jonathan Dahlen earned top-six roles to start the season.

Jonathan Dahlen San Jose Sharks
Jonathan Dahlen, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But between the Kane COVID-19 protocol violations, Eklund’s return to Sweden, Balcers’ injury-riddled season, and lackluster performances from youngsters, the Sharks needed help in their top six. Barabanov had a perfect opportunity to take over a full-time lineup spot and recapture the quality performance he showed in his brief stint last season.

Second-Best Sharks Winger

While Balcers and Dahlen have gotten hot on the team’s most recent road trip, that should not overshadow the consistent impact Barabanov has made this year. With six goals and 23 points in 38 games, he is fourth in scoring among San Jose forwards.

He’s forced Sharks head coach Bob Boughner’s hand and earned a spot on the top line and power-play unit. His immensely positive impact on 5v5 offense is his most impressive trait.

At even strength, the Sharks control just over 52% of scoring when Barabanov is on the ice. He has the second-most 5v5 assists per 60 minutes and third-most 5v5 points per 60 minutes. This offensive production rates him very highly in Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement model, which tracks his impacts this season compared to a replacement-level forward.

Sharks GAR Evolving Hockey Chart
Sharks Goals Above Replacement Chart via Evolving Hockey

Although Barabanov does probably have some of these offensive metrics inflated from Hertl, one of the best even-strength goal scorers in the league, he is still driving offense at 5v5.

Future Contract and Trade Talks

His $1 million bargain for San Jose will conclude after this season. He will hold more power in contract negotiations as an unrestricted free agent. While still a small sample size, if he produces at .6 points per game throughout the season, I could see a significant increase to his salary.

Related: Sharks Are Going to Need Help With Karlsson Injury

I could see Barabanov looking at somewhere near a $3 million salary. The Sharks already have key restricted free agents to sign in Mario Ferraro and Dahlen, in addition to key unrestricted free agent Hertl. On such a cap-strapped team, Barabanov may not be affordable.

So, then, the question of Barabanov needs to be raised. With Eklund surely returning for next season, the 27-year-old could be a replaceable part of the Sharks’ forward core. An extremely cheap rental forward could be a great addition for a team needing offense in the middle six ahead of the postseason.

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Sharks could be in for a weird situation with Barabanov. A trade could be in order with the club lacking cap space, decent winger depth, and the need for future assets. I can see a world where the Sharks trade or re-sign Barabanov.

What do you think of Barabanov’s future in teal? Let me know in the comments!

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