For all the talk of potential offer sheets this summer, if you were making a list of prime candidates to sign one and ensure a big raise Kevin Labanc of the San Jose Sharks would be on it.
The 23-year-old Labanc is coming off his third NHL season, one in which he increased his goals and points totals yet again. He’s gone from 8 to 11 to 17 goals and 20 to 40 to 56 points since breaking into the league in 2016-17. He also played well under the spotlight during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs scoring four times and recording nine points in 20 games. Entering restricted free agency this summer, you figured he wasn’t going to break the bank but he was certainly going to earn a nice bump from his $742,500 salary this past season.
Instead, Labanc decided to bet on himself for a one-year term worth $1 million. It’s a head-scratcher of a deal every time you read it. Just last week Timo Meier, who has 108 points in 193 games with the Sharks, signed a four-year, $24 million extension as an RFA. Labanc has 116 points in 214 games and is taking a big risk not cashing in now. Another strong season and he’ll certainly get a longer-term, bigger-money extension next summer as he’ll remain an RFA with arbitration rights, but one year? One million dollars? Just odd.
“It was, I think, just the best decision for myself and for the team,” Labanc said on Monday. “I’m just looking forward to the enhanced role and the upcoming season, and I believe my best hockey is ahead of me.”
“The combination of betting on himself with the situation he’ll be in next year, and the belief he has in himself, that’s exciting to us,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “We have no problem taking care of our own guys as they grow and evolve.”
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
Stranger was the fact that Labanc, who said he was “comfortable” and “confident” with the contract, added that he was not approached by any NHL teams about signing an offer sheet. He would have had to have been interested in signing one, of course, but surely you would have thought many teams would have been calling his agent to offer a contract with a longer term and bigger dollars.
According to the 2019 offer sheet compensation requirements, a deal signed with an average annual value of between $2,113,717 and $4,227,437 would require a team to surrender only one second round pick. An AAV offer in the $4,227,438 to $6,341,152 range would cost one first-round pick and one third-round pick. Labanc would have surely fallen somewhere between those two areas if a team really want to try and pry him out of San Jose.
As we wait to see if Joe Thornton will decide to come back on another one-year deal, the Sharks are a little more than $5 million under the salary cap ceiling, per Cap Friendly. Take Jumbo’s AAV, add that to the likely deals for RFAs Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela, and the probable return of Patrick Marleau, and it’s going to be a tight fit. Labanc’s team-friendly deal helps a lot here.
“It’s an important contract for us, but also a great opportunity for a guy whose game is just going to grow,” said Wilson.
With Joe Pavelski off to Dallas and Gustav Nyquist heading to Columbus, the opportunity is there for more ice time for Labanc. He averaged 14:01 a night last season and he’s part of a young core of Sharks forwards who will continue to develop together.
“I definitely see myself taking a bigger role,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity up there, and I think last year was a stepping stone for me to kind of prove myself that I can handle that top-six role. I’m looking forward to next season and I’m looking forward to be one of the top players on the team.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.