The San Jose Sharks are in for a rough stretch. With a 24-25-7 record, they face a tough climb toward a playoff spot. They are 10 points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot, with a key home-and-home series against the Los Angeles Kings coming up. Worse, they will face that matchup with an unhealthy roster. After making his 13th consecutive start, 33-year-old James Reimer left mid-game against the Vegas Golden Knights with a lower-body injury on March 1. Adin Hill has yet to complete a full practice and has not played since Jan. 22.
In front of Zachary Sawchenko, the Sharks’ third goalie, is a defense that lacks Mario Ferraro and Erik Karlsson. The latter is ahead of schedule in recovering from forearm surgery but is not a guarantee to play in the team’s next game on Thursday. Alex Stalock is the probable backup moving forward.
Plus, the Sharks still don’t have Kevin Labanc and Nikolai Knyzhov, key parts of last season’s roster who were expected to continue growing and producing in 2021-22. With the NHL Trade Deadline later this month, I thought it would be fun to pick the brains of fellow contributors Victor Nuno and Andrew Stille. Here’s what those two contributors make of the franchise’s upcoming schedule and decisions:
Tomas Hertl’s Future
Josh Frojelin: What Do You Foresee for Tomas Hertl’s Future With the Sharks?
Nuno: “I imagine the Sharks have offered Tomas Hertl a contract that is lower than he knows he can get on the open market. As we get closer to the trade deadline, I think they might trade him in hopes that it isn’t a sign and trade. Then he can come back and sign in the offseason, so purely a rental. I don’t think this is the most likely outcome, but a three-team modified no-trade clause (NTC) isn’t an insurmountable hurdle. I also wonder if the Sharks don’t get desperate and offer him more. I think it would be a mistake to offer a 28-year-old a long-term, high cap hit contract. They have done too much of that recently. I think they really want to keep him. I just don’t see it happening without the Sharks breaking the bank.”
Stille: “I would be shocked if Hertl doesn’t stay with the Sharks. He’s been one of the shining faces of this franchise for a long time. Clearly, he has a lot of passion for this team. Then again, I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to leave and contend with a team closer to a Cup.”
Unfortunately, the Czech native has hit a bit of a slump in line with the team’s declining play. With just two wins in their last 12 games, Hertl’s five assists in that span signal the team’s struggling offense, especially at even-strength.
As I’ve mentioned previously, however, the Sharks’ center depth is very thin. Both Nick Bonino and Logan Couture are far from first-line centers, especially considering their production will continue to decline with age. Prospects such as William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and Tristen Robins are not certain to make a humongous NHL impact right away and may not play center for years.
Barring a large free agency or trade addition, the Sharks have no hope to be competitive next season should they trade Hertl. He is streaky, but still consistently one of the team’s top performers. Although the organization is tied to some large contracts, I still see the club making a large run to keep Hertl for their potential bounce-back season in 2022-23.
Other NHL Trade Deadline Stories
Frojelin: “Besides Hertl, What Storylines or Possible Transactions Intrigue You the Most Heading Into the NHL Trade Deadline?”
Nuno: “Barabanov is an interesting name. He has been productive with the Sharks and could very well help a competitive team to the Cup. The Sharks should definitely trade him, in my opinion, unless they can sign him to a low cap hit with term. He is a useful player but more of a middle-six guy on a contending team. Offering him a LaBanc-type contract would be a huge mistake.”
Stille: “The most intriguing storyline to me is what Bob Boughner’s future with the team will be. Many fans are calling for his resignation. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Sharks explore different options next season.”
I’ll start with the latter. Head coach Bob Boughner is signed through the 2022-23 season, as is much of his coaching staff. Since taking over midway through the 2019-20 season, the Sharks are 59-73-16. With just under a .500 record in 2021-22, this will probably mark his best season in San Jose. To be fair, he has never inherited a particularly great roster.
But those are totally fair critiques for the coach. He is quick to bench and/or scratch younger talent when the team, as a whole, struggles, rarely cutting the ice time of veterans when they have off nights. He also gave a 13-game run to 33-year-old James Reimer, which certainly played into his injury, including starting back-to-back against one of the league’s worst teams in the Seattle Kraken.
Related: 5 Takeaways From the Sharks’ Traumatic Weekend
The ice time of youngsters can be frustrating when the Sharks have been set on developing young talent for the majority of Boughner’s time with the team. On the heels of an 8-0 loss, who knows what his future will hold.
Alexander Barabanov has probably been the second-best San Jose winger, next to Timo Meier. Fifth in points and tied for fourth in goals, he’s well outdone the $1 million contract he received last summer. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and could warrant upwards of at least $3 million annually.
For the Sharks, that could be out of their price range. Plus, his bargain contract will make him incredibly easy to move at the deadline and net a decent future asset for San Jose. With Eklund returning next year, I could see the team seeing the Russian forward as expendable if his next contract is outside Doug Wilson’s price range.
Future NHL Debuts
Frojelin: “Next Season, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Thomas Bordeleau, Tristen Robins, Daniil Gushchin, and Brandon Coe Are Likely To Turn Professional. Which 2020 Forward Prospect Are You Must Excited To See With the Sharks or Barracuda?”
Nuno: “It’s Robins for me. I think he has the highest upside of the quintet. As much skill as Daniil Gushchin has, I’m not sure his game translates to the NHL. Ozzy Wiesblatt has seemingly taken a step back. Brandon Coe is making strides, but I don’t think next year is his big professional breakout. Thomas Bordeleau is a tough one to peg, I think his next season will be interesting too, but Robins is a guy I can see really excelling around stronger talent.”
Stille: “I’m personally very high on Gushchin. I got to watch him play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks a few years ago, and he was insane. I was so excited to see him get picked up by the Sharks. He’s going to be absolute dynamite on skates for this organization.”
In fairness to Wiesblatt, the Prince Albert Raiders sport one of the worst rosters in the Western Hockey League (WHL). The winger has 10 goals and 40 points in 40 games, which leads his 21-28-3 team in scoring.
After he won Big Ten rookie of the year, Bordeleau seemed to be the crown jewel of the 2020 NHL Draft class. However, COVID-19 stopped him from showing his talent on the international stage at the World Junior Championship. He finished his sophomore season at the University of Michigan just under a point-per-game.
Robins, selected with the pick the Sharks received in the Brendan Dillon trade, has been a tremendous offensive talent in the WHL this season. On a fringe playoff team in the Saskatoon Blades, he is second in points with 67 through 50 games.
After two quality seasons in the United States Hockey League, Gushchin took his talents to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The undersized winger has continued his goal-scoring talents with the Niagara IceDogs, with a team-leading 32 goals and 55 points in 37 games. None of his teammates are above a point-per-game.
Seeing as the Sharks’ depth up the middle is thin, especially in comparison to their stable of wingers, I think Robins or Bordeleau is likely to make a bigger impact in the near future. The offensive output of both Gushchin and Robins is incredibly promising for the team’s future.
2022 NHL Draft Decisions
Frojelin: “The Sharks Are Likely To Select Somewhat High in the 2022 NHL Draft. What Position Do You Think Is Most Important To Address in the Draft?”
Nuno: “They need a new top-line center, especially if Hertl goes. But that really shouldn’t be the driving force at the draft. The two are not really that related, though management may see it that way. Center depth has been a problem for a while. The problem is, this draft has a ton of great defenders, something the Sharks ‘shouldn’t’ have a problem with, but they do.”
Stille: “I think it wouldn’t hurt to address goaltending and maybe defense. The forward pool is decently stacked, but the Sharks haven’t taken many chances on goaltenders in recent drafts. Defense could use a look or two as well, but finding a promising goalie prospect to have alongside Benjamin Gaudreau could be huge.”
Unfortunately, goaltending will be difficult to address at the NHL Draft; no goaltenders can be found in the THW’s rankings. The last three classes have included top-tier goalie prospects such as Spencer Knight, Yaroslav Askarov, Sebastian Cossa, and Jesper Wallstedt. 2022’s class will not feature goaltending talent of this level.
Hill has been up-and-down in his 73 games of NHL action. This season, he sports a .901 save percentage (SV%) in 24 games. At 25 years old, he will be part of the team’s future. Gaudreau, a 2021 third-round pick, has cooled since his hot start for the Sarnia Sting. He is 15-11-4 with a .895 SV% this season, which is average among OHL starting netminders.
On defense, the Sharks look pretty good for the future. They lack a top-tier defensive prospect, but Ferraro, Knyzhov, Santeri Hatakka, Artemi Kniazev, and Ryan Merkley look set to be impactful defensemen in the near future. Gannon Laroque, an off-the-board fourth-round pick, has been impressive in the WHL this season including being second in points on the Victoria Royals. Simon Nemec, David Jiricek, and Seamus Casey are the top blueliners at the upcoming draft.
From the 2020 class, the Sharks have plenty of offensively-gifted forwards, but most of them are wingers. Robins and Bordeleau play center in their respective leagues, but who knows if or when they will play at that spot after turning pro. Eklund, the team’s top prospect, still plays wing in the Swedish Hockey League despite reportedly being a center in the future.
Center is the main attraction at the top of the 2022 NHL Draft. Shane Wright is the crown jewel, but adding a name like Logan Cooley, Frank Nazar, Matthew Savoie, Conor Geekie, and Brad Lambert would massively improve the Sharks’ lackluster pool of centers.
Be sure to check out both Victor and Andrew’s work at THW. What did you think of our analysis on the Sharks’ future? Let us know in the comments section down below!