After nearly two decades as a consistent playoff team and Stanley Cup contender, the San Jose Sharks are clearly heading toward some of sort of a reset.
They have missed the playoffs two years in a row, finished 29th and 26th in the league-wide standings, and do not really have a roster that looks like it is going to be capable of much better this season. It is one of the oldest rosters in the league, filled with massive contracts to aging players on the downside of their careers, lacking in young impact talent, and still possessing major question marks in net. Even in a watered down division that is short on contenders, they are facing an uphill battle to even contend for a playoff spot in the short-term future.
They are also facing some big decisions with Tomas Hertl, who is probably the best current player on the roster.
Hertl is set to enter the final year of his contract and is going to be in line for a significant contract over the next calendar year, whether it is with the Sharks or somebody else.
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Over the past three years he has been one of the most effective forwards in the league, scoring at a top-line rate that has seen him average a 30-goal, 70-point pace over 82 games while also posting great possession and scoring chance numbers. When he is on the ice great things are generally happening for the Sharks. He is a player that they should absolutely want to keep.
But there are a couple of variables that are going to play a role in whether or not that can actually happen.
Top among them: Does Hertl want to stay? The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reported that Hertl is one of the players that has been upset with the team’s handling of the Evander Kane situation, and if the team’s culture is not addressed he may not be interested in sticking around. If that situation does not get resolved soon, and the Sharks continue to lose, what motivation would there be for a 28-year-old top-line player to want to stay in that situation?
The easy answer to that, of course, is money. And a lot of it.
But even that leads us to the second problem. The Sharks have about $14 million in cap space for the 2022-23 season with only 14 players under contract. Hertl’s next contract is almost going to certainly be north of $7 or 8 million (at least) and eat into most of that. There are always ways to get around salary cap issues, but clearing salary is going to be easier said than done for the Sharks. They not only have one of the older rosters in the league, a lot of the oldest players on the team are still tied into massive contracts for the next several years.
Which ultimately leads us to the final variable here: Is it worth it for the Sharks — and Hertl, for that matter — to want to do a long-term contract?
The Sharks are not close to being a contender right now, and are probably years away from reaching that point again. Does Hertl want to commit the last remaining years of his prime to a team that does not have a realistic chance of winning? And do the Sharks want to put themselves into a position where they try a competitive rebuild and just maintain mediocrity for longer? At some point every team, no matter how competitive they are or for how long, is going to go through some down years and need to re-tool. It is nearly impossible to do that and still compete at the same time, and almost every team that tries it ends up furthering their struggles.
Hertl is one of the few players on the roster that has real, meaningful trade value and could help kickstart a rebuild.
If it gets into the season and the Sharks are struggling again and contract talks do not go anywhere, it is probably the only sensible option.