Sharks should consider trades, bold experiments to turn things around

Sharks should consider trades, bold experiments to turn things around
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When it comes to NHL rebuilds, there are teams who seemingly live in denial, like the Ducks. Every now and then, a team such as the Coyotes actually exceeds expectations. Then there’s the Sharks, a team that (deep down) might prefer to rebuild, but could just be flat-out stuck.

Be sure to cue the “Jaws” theme as you scroll through the Sharks’ page at Cap Friendly, because you won’t find an NHL team with bigger bloat. Add in Evander Kane‘s ugly situation, and reports about fractured relationships with teammates, and the situation looks more and more like a disaster movie.

Is there any room for a happy ending, then?

Frankly, the 2021-22 Sharks don’t look that different from the recent, wildly disappointing groups from recent seasons. Yes, they moved from Martin Jones, but it’s unclear if James ReimerAdin Hill can transform their goaltending from a weakness to a true strength. In most cases, the Sharks are simply hoping that the bad things that happened before won’t keep happening.

So, where are the Sharks stuck, what are some trades/departures that are more realistic, and how might they improve what they currently have? Let’s attack this monster from multiple angles.

Kane, Hertl, and more pressing Sharks trade considerations

During the offseason, we’ve heard about the Sharks having little luck trying to trade Evander Kane. There have also been rumblings about Tomas Hertl, and murmurs about Timo Meier.

If Sharks management is self-aware, they really shouldn’t close the door on any trade possibilities, with the potential exception being the rare impact prospect, such as William Eklund. Instead, the question should be about when they should trade a player, not if.

  • Hertl turns 28 in November, and enters a contract year this season. Even as a player whose all-around skill is sorely underrated, the Sharks must expect Hertl to get a nice raise from his current $5.625M cap hit. Making that investment in such a messy situation screams of added more sunk costs to a drowning group. So, instead, it’s imperative to sell as high as possible in a Hertl trade. With just a three-team no-trade clause, that could be difficult. On the other hand, does Hertl really want to linger in this bad situation for a full season?

It’s a delicate situation, and the Sharks don’t have the greatest recent track record of threading this needle. They need to get this one right — and that almost certainly means waving goodbye to one of the few players they employ who exceeds his contract value.

[Click here for more on the Sharks’ conundrum regarding possibly trading Hertl]

  • Possibly trading Timo Meier is tricky, too.

When Meier signed his four-year, $24M contract in 2019, it looked like a steal. It’s been a bumpy couple of seasons for both the Sharks and Meier, who is now 24.

Trading Meier now would probably translate to selling low — he’s better than he’s looked. Maybe a lot better. Eventually, the Sharks may still need to accept that a Meier trade is the wisest long-term move. (Unless everything just kind of … works out this season.)

  • At 30 years old, with an array of off-the-ice issues,* Evander Kane’s $7M cap hit runs through 2024-25. His situation is one of several Sharks scenarios where you just sort of shrug your shoulders. There aren’t many clean, easy answers.

* – And some on-the-ice ones, too. He has a penchant for taking bad penalties, for instance.

Sharks in quite a pickle with Vlasic, Karlsson, and others

Kane’s situation straddles the line between the previous section (Sharks who are still producing at or near their prime levels) and this current one (contracts San Jose simply might not be able to trade away). Naturally, his situation is complex for different reasons, yet it’s just part of the team’s headaches.

In an ideal world, the Sharks could just blow it all up. It might be tempting to view that as possible, as we saw NHL teams throw caution to the wind during this offseason, often ignoring what charts and recent play might say.

So, maybe there’s room for dreaming. If that door is cracked open even a little, the Sharks should not hesitate. Realistically, though? They seem stuck.

Jarringly, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn ranked three Sharks among the NHL’s 10 worst contracts (sub required). Not a single Shark was even an honorable mention on his best contracts list, so there’s not much to dilute that poison.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Certainly, there’s room to debate that Erik Karlsson deserves the absolute worst spot instead of Drew Doughty. Either way, few would deny that Karlsson’s contract is frightening for the Sharks. The 31-year-old’s mammoth $11.5M cap hit only expires after the 2026-27 season.

You could argue that Erik Karlsson’s story is, to some extent, the same as that of the Sharks. Considering the age of their core, their front office might have expected a drop-off, eventually. Just not this soon.

This xSPAR chart from Evolving Hockey charts that course in a graph:

Sharks should consider trades, bold experiments to turn things around Karlsson Evo
via Evolving Hockey

It happened earlier, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic went sour sooner than expected, too. At 34, Vlasic’s already sliding to third pair duty, a disturbing fate for a defenseman whose $7M cap hit runs for five more seasons. Would a GM succumb to nostalgia for ‘Douard in a way that the Oilers did with Duncan Keith? Would retirement or an LTIR trip be the messy “solution” for Vlasic and/or Karlsson?

The Sharks likely weren’t expecting to mull these questions over this soon. Even with Brent Burns, there’s subtle slippage, which isn’t great being that he’s somehow already 36, and his $8M cap hit lasts for four more seasons.

Sharks should consider trades, bold experiments to turn things around Burns MEV comparison
via Evolving Hockey

Room for the Sharks to experiment? Maybe no excuse not to?

Leaf through the Sharks’ even-strength metrics at Natural Stat Trick, and you probably won’t be blown away by their level of play. Yes, you could argue that Martin Jones’ struggles dragged the Sharks from mediocre to abysmal.

If the Sharks want to aspire to something resembling contention — they spend like contenders, after all — then it might mean asking people to exit their comfort zones. Really, they might want to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall, and see what sticks.

[PHT’s 2021 Offseason NHL Trade Tracker]

Ponderous power play

It’s baffling that their power play ranked third-worst in the NHL last season (14.1-percent), and ranks fourth-worst during the two seasons since Bob Boughner took over as head coach (15.9-percent).

In November 2020, Jack Han shared some interesting insight about how Rocky Thompson and the Sharks wanted to make things work with Karlsson and Burns on the same power play. Thompson professed an interest in “nerding out about hockey” to Sheng Peng, but with Thompson gone due to COVID rules, maybe it’s time for even bolder experiments?

Erik Karlsson’s power play time with Brent Burns (79:07) nearly equaled his time away from him (73:16) last season. On one hand, that makes sense. Both take up a lot of oxygen, and each might want to play the point. In an NHL where teams lean toward 4F/1D setups, splitting the two up makes some sense.

Yet, with the way the Sharks are built, the best-case scenario would be to use their talents, and give penalty kills a lot to think about. Could the key be to convince Brent Burns to move his booming shot to “Alex Ovechkin‘s office?” Maybe on a more permanent basis?

Burns back to forward?

Truly, Burns might be the catalyst for multiple experiments.

Back in 2014, Fear the Fin argued that the Sharks were better off deploying Burns as a forward, instead of a defenseman. While that decision clearly worked out fine for the Sharks, the team’s predicament should at least prompt people to revisit the question.

Theoretically, moving Burns to forward could allow him to create even more offense, and soften the blow from defensive issues. As he gets older, he’s only going to have more trouble getting back into position if he decides to get aggressive offensively. What if that damage was mitigated by a position change?

Of course, Burns probably wouldn’t prefer that. As a forward, he’d almost certainly see a drastic drop in ice time.

But, frankly, are the Sharks really in a position to be that worried about ruffling feathers? (Granted, Brent Burns probably thinks about feathers more than any other NHL player. Although he has competition in Ryan Getzlaf.)

Overall, a Sharks turnaround is easier said than done

Sometimes you make big bets, only to come up empty. Long-term, big-money contracts rarely work out several years down the line in sports. Yet, with the Sharks, it’s truly dizzying just how quickly everything went south.

Do they stand much of a chance of turning things around in anything but the mildest ways?

In a putrid Pacific Division, being mildly competitive might be enough to at least linger in the playoff bubble. Considering all of the expensive bets the Sharks made, treading water — or remaining in the cellar — sure seems disappointing. Unfortunately, such a fate might simply be unavoidable.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.