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Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 San Jose Sharks

2022-23 San Jose Sharks
Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 San Jose Sharks.

2022-23 San Jose Sharks

Despite current appearances, the San Jose Sharks weren’t always a doomed franchise. They had reached the Western Conference Final in 2018-19.  Indeed, until that season the Sharks have a very solid history, missing the playoffs just twice in 20 years. They did it so often that it became an expectation. San Jose became famous for its ability to retain the free agents they wanted and making Go-For-It trades. By the time 2019-20 happened, the wheels didn’t just fall off – they exploded.

2021-22 Season

The good news is that the team’s highest-paid forwards led the team in scoring. Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture came through with 35, 30, and 23 goals respectively. Defencemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson had bounce-back seasons, even if Karlsson’s only lasted 50 games. Veteran goaltender James Reimer was decent in his return to San Jose, as was backup Adin Hill. New arrival Kaapo Kahkonen showed a lot of promise on arrival despite his 2-6-1 record.

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The Sharks inability to score hampered the team to the extent that they finished sixth in the Pacific Division. A full 20 points back of a playoff spot. The 33-year-old veteran Nick Bonino provided good value with 16 goals, but behind him was not much. A dislocated shoulder ended Kevin Lebanc’s season early, but he was having a miserable year anyway. The team limped badly to the finish line, enduring a ten-game losing streak through March and April. They won just five times after the trade deadline, and it was no surprise.

2022 Offseason

When long-time general manager Doug Wilson stepped away from the Sharks, that was a signal the team was changing. After years of unsuccessful moves to return to the playoffs, a recognition of their failure is due. New General Manager Mike Grier made an immediate impact, dropping down in the entry draft and picking up selections. A week later, he sent 11-year Shark Brent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes. Including Burns’ retained salary, the team has just over $5 million in dead cap this season.

Grier and new head coach David Quinn have their work cut out for them. They’ll need to negotiate how to rebuild a team that never quite had enough to win it all but kept trying, moving out prospects and picks in the effort. They have long salary commitments, ageing stars, and arguably their best player coming up for renewal. It’s not a completely unfamiliar story, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the 2022-23 San Jose Sharks.

Lineup Projections


Timo Meier – Tomas Hertl – Alexander Barabanov

Oskar Lindblom – Logan Couture – Kevin Labanc

Noah Gregor – Nick Bonino – Luke Kunin

Steven LorentzNico SturmMatthew Nieto

Top Six

The top line should remain unchanged from last season to this one. Meier, Hertl, and Barabanov were a winning combination in their matchups, and if they can remain healthy, Barabanov, at least, should see an improvement in scoring. It is just his second full season, but at 28 years old that improvement probably won’t be earth-shattering. Much more is expected of Kevin Labanc this year, as it was in the previous three. He will need to deliver and show he can be an impact player.

The ever-reliable Couture improves whoever he lines up with. Giving Lindblom a prime spot beside him with give the former Philadelphia Flyer every chance to reach career highs. Given those highs were just 17 goals and 33 points, it won’t be hard. He will undoubtedly want to prove himself after the Flyers bought out the last year of his contract after he returned from a battle with Ewing’s sarcoma.

Bottom Six

There can be a lot of movement in the bottom six. Given the injury history ahead of them, nearly anyone here could find themselves in the top two lines for extended periods. Kunin may take Labanc’s place, for instance, if coach Quinn loses patience. Gregor can likewise move up, but for a different reason. That reason is that he’s one of the team’s few promising young forwards.

Lorentz made his way to the coast in the Burns deal, so no pressure. The big winger became a fourth-line staple for the Carolina Hurricanes, making the team as a 24-year-old in 2020-21. He hasn’t played a minute in the minors since, so they obviously liked what they saw. As do San Jose, who gave him a two-year contract. He joins first-year Shark Sturm who is coming over with a Stanley Cup ring. As well as veteran Nieto. Nieto is in the last year of his deal and needs to play like it to keep his spot.

If the team ever feels the need for a bit extra muscle, Jonah Gadjovich is waiting in the wings. He isn’t totally without skill, but expect him to join the game as a 13th forward rather than a regular until injuries mount.


Markus Nutivaara – Erik Karlsson

Mario FerraroMarc-Edouard Vlasic

Radim SimekRyan Merkley

Top Four / Bottom Pair

Putting Nutivaara on the top pair comes with a massive asterisk after reports he might miss the start of the season. After playing a single game last season, hopes were high the former Florida Panther would be ready in September. It is, hopefully, simply a precaution to keep him out of the European games. When he does start, it should be with Karlsson.

If he isn’t, it may well be PTO-then-signee Scott Harrington up with Karlsson. Amazing as it is to consider a journeyman who managed just 19 NHL over the last two seasons starting on the top pair, that speaks volumes about who San Jose has available. In either case, Karlsson’s partner is going to be expected to be responsible defensively.

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Mario Ferraro has had the world dropped onto his shoulders from his second year, playing top-pair minutes with Brent Burns. He may well be just the thing a rapidly fading Vlasic needs to get his game back in line. The team is going to miss Nikolai Knyzhov desperately for the start of the year, so they need the 35-year-old Vlasic to return to something like his former self.
On the bottom pair sits the… let’s call him “challenging” Ryan Merkley. The now 22-year-old has phenomenal natural skills that his brain still completely short-circuits on occasion. It makes sense if the team wants to play it safe, to replace him with Matt Benning. This isn’t a year to play it safe. Expect Merkley to suit up beside Simek or Harrington.


James Reimer – Kaapo Kähkönen
While he’s far removed from his “Optimus Reim” days, Reimer is a decent veteran for a rebuilding team. Arguably, the most important feature in a goalie for a group that is going to struggle is someone who can do the job with as little drama as possible. There isn’t much the 34-year-old hasn’t seen, and splitting time with Adin Hill, or more likely, Kähkönen this year will steady the squad in front of him.
 Kähkönen, a restricted free agent at the end of 2021-22, signed a two-year deal to prove himself with the Sharks. They’re going to give him every opportunity to do so during a season that a high draft pick is likely the goal anyways.

Players to Watch

William Eklund

The seventh overall pick in 2021, William Eklund got a nine-game trial run last season. The slight Eklund showed good creativity and produced four assists, but whether the team wants him to start there this year is a question. It’s not expected to be a good season for the team, so will they make him join them through it, keep him in Sweden, or try him in the AHL? Eklund skipped the World Juniors for a shot at the NHL, but that might not be the best spot for him just yet.

Kaapo Kähkönen

The Sharks took advantage of the Wild’s cap crunch to bring in the promising Kähkönen. They signed him to just a two-year deal at $2.75 million per season and are hoping he’ll be worth a lot more soon. If he can provide the team reliable stability through a couple of rough seasons, that will make it easier on everyone. And if he actually lives up to the potential glimpsed in Minnesota, they’ll be glad to keep him through their rise.

Prediction for 2022-23 San Jose Sharks

Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook Not Good. Their options still make them interesting to view, however. Will they push the youth in Eklund and Merkley? Or let them overcook in preparation for the future renaissance? Whichever direction they choose to go, it will be a while getting there.


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