One wouldn’t think the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks are among the league’s most dangerous teams. After all, they sit in bubble territory, currently out of a playoff spot. The odds are against them making a run to the postseason. This hardly sounds like a dangerous team.
In terms of being a major playoff threat, the Sharks have little hope for this season or, for that matter, the next few seasons. The team is heavily burdened by expensive contracts for declining players. The youth is middle of the pack, an upgrade from years past, but hardly enough to lift the team from below average to a contender. This can all pass, but not quickly. There are some players in their prime, but not enough good ones to carry a team.
So what makes the Sharks so dangerous? The players they can trade. If you’re a very good team this season, you hope your rivals aren’t calling the Sharks.
In Part 1 of this article, we look at the environment and the players. In part 2, we’ll look at trades and their impact on the teams involved.
2021-22 San Jose Sharks: Dangerous With an ‘If’
There is one major ‘if’ in all this. If the Sharks are willing to stop thinking about a reset and get on with a rebuild, they can be this season’s kingmaker. They can have an enormous vote in who wins the Stanley Cup.
To be clear, the Sharks benefit most by helping other teams succeed. That means retaining salary and taking on other teams’ worst contracts in return. And getting the most future high draft picks in the process.
If the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks choose to play this role, they are the most dangerous team in the league. Dangerous, that is, to every team who thinks this could be their year for a Cup.
The San Jose Sharks Trading Environment
In this writer’s (likely minority) opinion, the Sharks have exactly one current roster player who they need to keep for the long term: defenceman Mario Ferraro. Everyone else can be traded for the right value. Looking ahead to 2027, this writer would be fine if every other current Sharks player was elsewhere. Not that there aren’t some good players who are fine to keep, but only Ferraro is a player the team can build around and is still in his prime in 2027. With other good Sharks players, the next few years promise to be problematic and some of the better ones might simply leave as free agents. Notably, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl.
For the mid-career high-end talent, there’s little reason to stick around hoping for an exciting future; coming five years from now. For the older players, most don’t have five more good years, so taking a shot at the Stanley Cup is a matter of urgency. The team’s core youth consists of players who are replaceable.
The Sharks have six players with substantial trade value. The sort of value which can convert a Stanley Cup contender to a Stanley Cup champion. Stanley Cups do not come cheap. The Sharks can extract a ton of value.
1. James Reimer
We’ll start with the least obvious of the six. A quick check of his stats says goalie James Reimer is having a solid, but not special, season. The eye test tells a different story. Reimer has had three poor starts which produced five periods of statistically horrid hockey. He allowed 17 goals in those five periods. In his other 23 starts, he’s allowed only 49 goals.
Take out the overtime goals allowed (since there is no 3-on-3 overtime in the playoffs), and Reimer’s ‘goals against average’ is a stingy 2.08. Will that do in the playoffs? It sure will.
The Sharks played their recent road trip with a severely depleted defence. It showcased just how good Reimer is. The Sharks played the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. Absolutely brutal. Four of the league’s elite and highest-scoring teams. Due to the absence of backup goalie Aiden Hill, Reimer played every minute of all four games, which took place in a span of six days. He allowed just nine goals in regulation while facing 140 shots. Save percentage against these locked-in playoff teams? .936. Will that do in the playoffs? It sure will.
If not for the three clunkers, Reimer would be in the Vezina Trophy conversation. He’s been that good. One can win a Stanley Cup with a clunker or two, providing the goalie is top tier the rest of the time. This is exactly Reimer’s story this season.
Reimer is a fit for a team with a less than stellar starting netminder playing behind a stellar group of skaters. With a salary cap hit slightly over $2 million and one more season after this, he’s not simply a very good goalie, but a massive bargain.
2. Erik Karlsson
Yes, Erik Karlsson is injured. Plus he has a no move clause and an outsized contract. It’d seem he’d be tough to trade. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The Sharks would need to retain salary here. Karlsson isn’t worth his $11.5 million annual salary cap. But he is worth more than half of that and if the San Jose Sharks retain some salary, a trade can make sense.
Karlsson’s injury is to his arm; he is expected to return in March. Which is great timing for the playoffs which begin in April. As for the no-move clause, does he really want to spend most of the rest of his career in a rebuild? Give him a legit shot at the big prize and expect he’ll waive his no movement clause.
Karlsson’s strengths, notably his vision and skating, aren’t at all impacted by his injury. He is having a superb offensive season. He may not be the Norris Trophy candidate of years past, but he plays at the level of a top 10 defenceman. Retain half his salary (or more if a third party gets involved), and Karlsson can be both a bargain and a game changer for a playoff team.
He can play huge minutes and at times, can carry a team. With 26 points in 33 games, he’s produced plenty of offence. Among defencemen, Karlsson’s eight even-strength goals are tied for second in the league and his even-strength scoring, measured in points-per-game (0.55), is identical or ahead of Norris candidates Adam Fox (0.55) and Aaron Ekblad (0.50). All despite playing for a low scoring team.
3. Brent Burns
Brent Burns, the Sharks ironman defenseman with a great birthday, is third in the league in ice time. While the team in front of him has been questionable, Burns is the sort of player who can transform a team under the right conditions. His defence is, as always, suspect. But if he plays fewer minutes, he can drive offence and be less of a liability on the back end.
He’s still a freakish talent and a physical mismatch for most NHL players. He still has a big motor, ideal for playoff games which can go into overtime periods. Burns can draw penalties and perhaps surprisingly, is excellent on the penalty kill. He’s been asked to shoot less in the Sharks current system, yet is still top five in the league in shots on goal. And with 26 points, he still produces offence.
Burns’s salary cap hit, at $8million, is quite reasonable for his quality of play. Should the Sharks offer up some salary retention, his trade value can skyrocket.
4. Timo Meier
Timo Meier is having the sort of season which would garner Hart Trophy attention if he were playing for a top team. With 47 points in 41 games, he’s as good a power forward as there is in the league. Meier’s scoring isn’t driven by the Sharks’ power play, all but eight of his points came at even strength. He is sixth overall in even-strength scoring. With just a $6 million salary cap hit, he’s a bargain. With one more season after this one on his current deal, a major bargain.
There is no top line in the NHL which wouldn’t immediately be better with Meier. The fancy stats adore Meier, he ranks highly in all sorts of categories. For example, his relative ‘goals for’ percentage (GF%) is second among full-time players, behind only Johnny Gaudreau.
5. Tomas Hertl
If Meier is the Sharks’ top power forward, center Tomas Hertl isn’t far behind. He is fourth in the league in even strength goals and he’s often dominant. The team around him has limited talent, but Hertl is a stud. He is 21st in the league in relative GF%.
There are many teams where he’d be the top center, others where he’d be a second liner. While he’s not the physical freak that Burns is, Hertl is incredibly difficult to handle down low. The combination of size, power and skill which Hertl offers is rare.
As with Meier, he’s an elite player stuck on a team that simply isn’t good enough to compete. Hertl’s cap hit is under $6 million, and his contract ends when this season ends. He’s a $9 million talent playing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
6. Logan Couture
The 2021-22 San Jose Sharks team captain is having another good season. Logan Couture is posting good numbers, though not elite. This is at least partly because he’s often centring a line with third line talent on his wings.
Would a team take a chance on him? Again, price matters. So does his playoff history. In the season the Sharks went to the Cup Final, it was Couture who led the playoffs in scoring (30 points in 24 games) by a lot. He’s proven he can come up huge in the playoffs.
Couture is a superb second line center for an elite team. He has the playoff experience, the all-around game and the leadership for a team which needs a bit more of that.
Couture is making $8 million a season with five more years left on his deal after this one. He’s a fair value now, especially for a win-now team.
The Dangerous 2021-22 San Jose Sharks
We’ve covered the background and decided which Sharks players make the most sense to trade. In the next part, we’ll look at how the Sharks and their trade partners can get the maximum value from any transaction. And quite possibly, determine who wins the Stanley Cup.