The wages of being a constant contender in the NHL are often hefty. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who, after a decade of dominance in the NHL, are starting to feel the wrath of pricey contracts handed out to their key players. The Blackhawks, though, won championships in 2010, 2013, and 2015 to make up for these contracts.
The same cannot be said for the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks are going to have to prove in the upcoming 2020-21 season that their 29th-place finish last season was simply an aberration. With only $2 million in available cap space until the season begins, the Sharks are going to have to be able to get value out of some of their more expensive contracts in order to get back on track. With that in mind, I present to you the Sharks’ three worst contracts on their books:
No. 3: Logan Couture
Captain Logan Couture’s form took a hit this past season. After a 2018-19 season in which Couture tallied 70 points as well as a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 53.8% and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 52.84%, Couture’s first season with a “C” on his chest failed to match that mark. Couture’s 2019-20 campaign was limited due to an ankle injury that he suffered in January, but still saw his numbers decline, only putting up 39 points for the season and having both his CF% and xG% dip below 50%, at 49.5% and 47.8% respectively.
Couture’s contract came into effect this past season– an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $8 million a year. My colleague Victor Nuno assembled a table that projects how much value a player provides based on their contract with data provided by Evolving Hockey. In this chart, we can see that Couture’s value is significantly lower than his cap hit, at $3,266,267.
Despite this grim difference between his cap hit and his estimated value, Couture still brings a lot to the table. The Sharks named him their captain for a reason, and that’s because of his leadership qualities, as well as a sustained touch for scoring. While Couture is still certifiably a good player, his contract doesn’t necessarily reflect that right now. Perhaps a healthier season will boost his value closer to his cap hit, but as it stands, Couture’s contract stands as the third-worst on the Sharks.
No. 2: Martin Jones
The Martin Jones problem has been a recurring theme in the past two Sharks seasons, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s bad enough at the surface level: he’s had two consecutive seasons with a save percentage under .900%, as well as a ballooning goals-against average, going up from 2.94 in 2018-19 to an even 3.00 in 2019-20. The underlying numbers are also quite gloomy – Hockey-Reference has his goals saved above average (GSAA) at minus-15.01, fourth-worst in the NHL. Natural Stat Trick is much harsher to him in this category, though, with Jones coming in dead last at minus-23.20.
Regardless of which GSAA number is more accurate, though, it’s clear that Jones has become a major issue contract-wise. Jones was signed to a six-year extension in the summer of 2017 with an average annual value of $5,750,000. The contract went into effect the following season, and it coincided with Jones’ first down year. There was hope that Jones’ poor play in 2018-19 was simply an aberration, but unfortunately, Jones seemed to regress even further in the following season.
The Sharks have brought in Devan Dubnyk to limit the workload for Jones, but one would have to think this season will be Jones’ final chance with the Sharks. Another season with a sub-.900 SV%, even with a new goaltending coach in Evgeni Nabokov and a proven, yet recently shaky backup in Dubnyk may force the Sharks’ hand to either trade or buy Jones out and look elsewhere for goaltending options.
No. 1: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
You know that one scene from SpongeBob where one of the fish confronts Plankton with a Krabby Patty that looks normal, but when the scene changes it’s revealed to be an absolutely disgusting version of a Krabby Patty? That could be used to describe Marc-Edouard Vlasic at this stage of his career.
Vlasic has always been one of the NHL’s top stay-at-home defensemen, which is becoming a rare commodity in the NHL these days. It could very well be argued that up until the offseason of 2017 that he was one of the most underpaid players in the league. When the Sharks decided to give him a handsome contract, it may have come at the wrong time for them.
I’ve previously discussed the regression of Vlasic, but it’s worth bringing up again especially in regards to his contract. JFresh has Vlasic’s current contract, an eight-year deal with an AAV of $7 million, projected as the NHL’s worst contract by using wins above replacement and an age curve.
Vlasic also tops the rankings for the lowest projected total WAR value, with minus-16.1. The second-worst player in that category is Brent Seabrook, whose total WAR value is projected to be minus-15.8. While I can’t really fault the Sharks for rewarding one of their most reliable defensemen with a hefty contract, and especially considering he had a good season in terms of WAR the season after signing said extension, the absolute nose-dive that Vlasic has taken since having signed the contract makes this the worst contract that the Sharks currently have.
With the Sharks seemingly having been in a “win-now” mindset for the past 10 years, they’ve wanted to make sure their core sticks around. Unfortunately, every team’s window has to close at some point, and it sure seems like the Sharks’ window is almost completely shut. Large contract lengths and cap hits are starting to mount and thus make a true rebuild very difficult for the Sharks. In the cases of Couture, Jones, and Vlasic, their large cap hits combined with regressing play will put the Sharks in more tough situations if they wish to get out from any of those contracts.