While the NHL playoffs were in full swing, many of us at The Hockey Writers were hard at work. We got together to create a realistic Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft. I was tasked with putting myself in the shoes of Doug Wilson, general manager of the San Jose Sharks. We were allowed to make trades with not only the Kraken but other general managers around the league to improve our teams, dump salary, and optimize our protected lists.
The Sharks were not hit hard by the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion, losing David Schlemko. Schlemko was traded to the Montreal Canadiens the day after they claimed him, and he’s played 55 NHL games since that transaction. Wilson positioned himself well to expose Schlemko and not lose a bigger contributor. We will see if he can do that again.
Because Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have no-movement clauses, the Sharks are locked into the seven forward, three defense, and one goalie protection strategy. None of the high-end prospects for the Sharks are eligible to be exposed, but there are some decisions to be made, and they will likely lose a decent young player. The expansion rules for the Kraken are the same as for the Golden Knights.
The Sharks started the offseason not having enough eligible forwards for the expansion requirements. Since the end of the regular season, Wilson signed four players to contract extensions. Matt Nieto helped the Sharks reach their minimum expansions requirement for forwards. They still need to sign one more to reach the minimum, and the most likely candidates are Ryan Donato, Dylan Gambrell, Marcus Sorensen, and Rudolfs Balcers.
Sorensen seems to have peaked in his 2018-19 season, where he hit career highs in points (30), shots (100), hits (88), and blocks (29) despite not having the highest time on ice. Since that season, Sorensen has started to trend down, not only in points but also in his defensive play. Known as a stout two-way player, he did not live up to that billing this season. According to Evolving-Hockey, he had the second-worst Corsi against per 60 minutes, indicating opponents were able to dominate the shot share against the Sharks when he was on the ice. If Sorensen isn’t driving play and he isn’t scoring much, there isn’t a good reason for the Sharks to bring him back.
Gambrell increased his time on ice this season by over four minutes. He didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, increasing his point pace from 18 to 20. He did set career highs in shots (48), hits (77), blocks (54), and faceoff wins (279), but I’m not sure that will be enough to earn him another contract. According to Top Down Hockey, Gambrell faced only the 8th strongest competition out of 12 forwards. The Sharks definitely need more from a bottom-six forward. And I could see Wilson signing Gambrell if only to expose him to Seattle without the plan to keep him long-term.
Donato was an early-season surprise, scoring seven points in his first 13 games. His production flattened off after that considerably, and he finished with just one point in his last nine games. Only Patrick Marleau had easier competition to play against than Donato, so his production is even more disappointing in that context. He is a restricted free agent, so it will be interesting to see what Wilson does here. It seems like Donato can be an effective depth forward, but the likelihood of him rising into the top six seems unlikely. I’d be surprised if Wilson gave Donato both a raise and term; Evolving-Hockey projects him to get a similar contract to his last one, and that makes sense to me, two years term just under $2 million.
Balcers was easily the waiver claim of the 2020-21 season. He was an original draft pick of the Sharks who went to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson trade. Wilson seemed pleased to re-acquire Balcers, and he fit right in on his new club. By the end of the season, he was playing over 15 minutes per night and getting some power play time.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Balcers was second only to Tomas Hertl in expected goals differential per 60 minutes. This metric combines expected goals for and against divided by 60 minutes to correct for how much each skater plays. While the points might not be there, Balcers is a highly effective forward who should be a Shark for a very long time. If I were Wilson, I would give Balcers at least two years, but probably more like three to four. Evolving-Hockey has a two-year $1.369 million contract as his most likely outcome.
Offseason Free Agent Signings
According to CapFriendly, the Sharks have $10.375 million in cap space with five unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents, and two 10.2 (c). The Sharks were not at the minimum number of signed forwards when the mock expansion took place, so I decided on Balcers and Donato as the two most deserving, giving each two years at $1.45 million per year. Since the experiment concluded, Nieto also signed for two years at $850,000 per year. That leaves $7.48 million for the rest of the players who need to sign.
In net, the Sharks could expose Martin Jones if they signed another goalie, and so I did that by giving Josef Korenar a one-year, $950,000 contract. Korenar appeared in 10 games this season, winning three and losing five with a 3.17 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. Those numbers don’t sound good, but the Sharks were one of the worst defensive teams this season, so some slack must be given in his first NHL action.
While I don’t think Korenar is the answer for the Sharks in net, he could evolve to a competent 1B or backup in the right circumstance. Giving him a short, cheap contract seemed like a prudent thing to do to see what he could do with more playing time. It was my intent to protect Korenar and expose Jones, but there is a twist below.
This is where the experiment got really fun. The Sharks have an obvious need in net, and although they don’t have the deepest prospect system, there are some strong pieces they could leverage. Couple that with some teams who are in a worse situation, and there were moves to be made.
My first order of business was to try and unload Jones to Seattle or any other team. There was some interest, but the price was too high. General managers wanted some combination of Ryan Merkley, Thomas Bordeleau, and first-round picks, which I think would be too much to give in order to rid the Sharks of a substandard goalie and bad contract.
According to CapFriendly, buying out Jones would cost between $1.66 and $2.92 million over the next six seasons. While that may seem like a lot, it would give $4.09 to $2.83 million in cap space over that time frame, with the majority of the relief coming in the last three years. It is my belief that Wilson will do his best to get either the Kraken or another NHL to take Jones’ cap hit, and if he cannot get a good deal, he will simply buy him out post-expansion draft.
Since I couldn’t get anyone to take Jones at a reasonable price, I felt the biggest need for the Sharks was to acquire a goaltender. There are several teams with good young goaltenders who might lose one for nothing. Among these are the St. Louis Blues, who could lose Ville Husso, the Arizona Coyotes with Adin Hill, the Minnesota Wild with Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, and the Washington Capitals with restricted free agents Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.
The prize of this group, as far as I’m concerned, is Samsonov, so I opened the talks with the mock general manager of the Capitals. Initially, he wanted Merkley or Bordeleau, and I refused. Since the Capitals are in a bit of a cap crunch and need pieces who can compete now, cheap young talent that is relatively NHL ready was the desire. The deal we settled on was Samsonov for Artemi Kniazev, Alexander Barabanov, and a 2022 2nd round pick.
At first glance, this may seem like a steal for the Sharks, and I still really like it. The Sharks get a highly touted young goalie that they won’t have to pay a lot for since he had two somewhat disappointing seasons so far, but the upside to be a starter is still there in Samsonov. The Capitals get a young puck-moving defender who is close to NHL ready with some professional experience under his belt, a cheap forward in his prime with early NHL success and a track record of KHL success, and a good draft pick.
This would leave the Capitals with Vanecek as their presumed starter. According to Evolving-Hockey, they have similar career numbers, with Samsonov having eight more games played. Samsonov has a slightly better -6.42 goals saved above expected, while Vanecek is -8.45. With Samsonov’s injury troubles the last two seasons, paired with some questionable decisions, it might not seem like such a huge gamble. For the record, the other managers in the experiment applauded the deal as fair for both sides.
The final protection list for the Sharks came in as follows:
Forwards: Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Kevin LaBanc, Ryan Donato, and Rudolfs Balcers
Defensemen: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Goalie: Ilya Samsonov
As mentioned above, both Donato and Balcers signed for $1.45 million for two seasons, but with the acquisition of Samsonov, signing him was the priority. Looking at comparable goalies who were relatively high draft picks and those who have had some NHL success already, I like MacKenzie Blackwood as a comparable. Blackwood, who has 105 NHL games played to Samsonov’s 45, has had his ups and downs for sure, though it’s inarguable that the Capitals are a better team than the New Jersey Devils right now.
Blackwood signed a three-year contract in December of 2020 with a $2.8 million cap hit. This seems like a reasonable range for Samsonov. Hopefully, Wilson has learned his lesson and won’t give an exorbitantly long contract to an unproven goalie. I decided a $3 million cap hit for three seasons was fair for Samsonov, which would leave $4.48 million to sign the rest of the players before the buyout of Jones.
The mock general manager for the Kraken didn’t have a whole lot of good options from the Sharks. The primary options were forwards Dylan Gambrell (if signed), Marcus Sorensen (if signed), or Matt Nieto, defender Radim Simek, or goalie Josef Korenar. I discussed above the drawbacks to Gambrell and Sorensen. Wilson might sign them just to expose them. Nieto is a fine bottom-six forward who could be serviceable forward at a low cap hit. Korenar likely won’t be an attractive option as the Kraken will likely have better goalie options.
Simek is an interesting case, as he was really good in his first NHL season. According to Evolving-Hockey, Simek had the second-best Corsi against per 60 minutes (CA/60) behind Brendan Dillon in 2018-19. That means he was the best at limiting opponents’ shots against while he was on the ice. In 2019-20 after his knee injury and subsequent recovery, it was the opposite, with Simek being second worst in CA/60 just ahead of parter Burns. In 2020-21, he was back to second behind surprise rookie Nikolai Knyzhov. Simek’s contract isn’t too large with three more seasons at $2.25 million, but there is a fair amount of risk as to which Simek the Kraken would be getting.
In the end, the Kraken ended up taking the young, high upside talent in Jonathan Dahlen. According to Hockey Prospecting, Dahlen graduated the model with a 5 percent chance of being a star or .7 points per game in his career and a 59 perceny chance of being an NHLer. While there is still tremendous upside for Dahlen, there are some in the analytics community that really question whether his skill will translate to the NHL. If the Sharks brass agrees with this assessment as I do, he will likely be the one going to Seattle.
The Sharks are going to lose a decent depth player, but not an important piece of their organization. As he did prior to the Golden Knights’ expansion, I expect Wilson to position the Sharks well to not lose a high-quality player. I also expect Wilson to make more trades prior to this expansion than the last, as the state of the team is different now. There are more long-term contracts that haven’t aged well, and the team isn’t as good. Either way, the complexion of the Sharks will be fairly different in the next few months prior to the 2021-22 season.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12