San Jose Sharks Offseason Primer

San Jose Sharks offseason

As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.

The fourth and final segment of Offseason Primers sticks to the Western Conference, featuring the Pacific Division. Today, the San Jose Sharks offseason will go under the microscope.

San Jose Sharks Offseason Primer

Pending Free Agents

After an extremely disappointing season, general manager Doug Wilson will have a chance to sit down and examine the Sharks’ roster. Their pending free agent list provides an opportunity for an on-the-fly roster refresh. As Wilson attempts to quickly reform the Sharks back into a contender, each name will require careful consideration. The Sharks’ unrestricted free agents include names such as Joe ThorntonMelker KarlssonAaron DellTim HeedStefan NoesenBrandon DavidsonDalton ProutLukas Radil, and Jonny BrodzinskiAnthony Greco is a Group Six UFA.

Perhaps more deserving of Wilson’s attention is the Sharks’ youngsters. Kevin LabancJoel KellmanJacob MiddletonAntti SuomelaJonathan DahlenAndrew ShortridgeNicolas MelocheTony SundJeremy RoyJayden HalbgewachsManuel Wiederer, and Maxim Letunov.

Salary Cap Outlook

While the Sharks have some hefty contracts on their books, they should have some wiggle room under the salary cap this year. The team’s CapFriendly page states the team has $14.88 million in projected cap space for 2020-21. While it’s not an incredible amount, it’s enough for Wilson to be able to exercise his vision for the future.

Major Likely Departures

Joe Thornton

Just as his longtime colleague in Patrick Marleau did, it’s time for Thornton to jump ship. While he was still relatively productive this season (31 points in 70 games), Thornton could very well only have one season of NHL hockey left in him. With a 22-year NHL career and 1,636 NHL games, Thornton is one of the longest-tenured players ever to never win a championship.

The Sharks would still like to have him around if for nothing else other than leadership and sentimental value. However, they’re also acutely aware of Thornton’s desire to win. It’s entirely possible that Thornton will depart the club this offseason to sign a one-year deal elsewhere. It may be his last shot at a Stanley Cup.

Aaron Dell

Part of the reason for San Jose’s downfall this past season was their atrocious goaltending. While Dell performed better than starter Martin Jones, he wasn’t perfect either. Dell still had a below-average season, posting a .907 save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against average.

So while Dell may have been better off this year, the Sharks have a long-term investment in Jones that is almost impossible to move. San Jose is in need of a goaltending shakeup, so Dell, as the pending free agent, is likely to be the casualty.

Melker Karlsson

While Karlsson has always been a dependable penalty killer for the Sharks, a career-worst offensive campaign may have cost him an extension. Assuming he’ll want to stay around his $2 million cap hit, it’s a gross overpayment for a 12-point forward. He’s never quite recaptured the magic of his 2014-15 rookie season in the league, where he posted 24 points in 53 games. Karlsson will likely find a home on the open market with a team that desperately needs penalty kill assistance.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Kevin Labanc

Labanc has quickly grown into a draft steal for the Sharks. Picked 171st overall in 2014, the Brooklyn native exploded in the two seasons after his draft year. After tallying 35 points in 2013-14 for the OHL’s Barrie Colts, Labanc tallied 107 and then 127 points in the next two seasons. Labanc’s offensive success has largely translated to the NHL, where he’s gotten experience as a top-six winger. Labanc’s breakout season in 2018-19 saw him net 17 goals and 56 points, being a crucial part of the Sharks’ attack.

Labanc took a step back this season, though, as did the entire team. His 33 points paled in comparison to last year’s totals, but could easily be a blip on the radar. As the Sharks have lost many quality pieces, retaining affordable young depth will be a necessity for Wilson. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts a three-year extension for Labanc, earning him $3.79 million a season. Wilson would be left with $11.09 million at this point in cap space.

Stefan Noesen

After not having an NHL job at the beginning of the year, Noesen eventually found his way to the Sharks organization. In 34 games, Noesen scored eight points (but what do you want for free?). He was used largely in a fourth-line role but was effective, posting a 51.4 percent Corsi For. While Noesen will never be an offensive dynamo, the former first-round pick helps the Sharks maintain possession while their bottom-six forwards are on the ice.

The Sharks likely extend him on a short-term deal in case he can provide quality depth in future years. Evolving-Hockey’s projection is three years at $1.65 million per season. San Jose would still have $9.44 million in cap space.

Potential Free Agent Additions

The Sharks need a goaltending shakeup. They need a capable backup who can play a large number of games in tandem with Jones. Cam Talbot is a name that immediately comes to mind. The Sharks could likely acquire him for under $3 million. That still leaves them with room to add in free agency as they try to extend their Stanley Cup window.

Aside from their stars, the Sharks need lots of help on defence. They could look into acquiring Sami Vatanen in free agency, who would also help on the power play. With remaining funds, they could look at acquiring names such as Alex Galchenyuk or Derek Grant in order to create more offensive depth.

To see what their California rivals may be up to this summer, check out the Offseason Primers for the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

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