The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the San Jose Sharks.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 21-28-7 (49 points) sixth place in Western Division
• Postseason: Did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs; drafted William Eklund No. 7 overall
• Offensive leader: Evander Kane (56 games, 22 goals, 27 assists, 49 total points)
• Free Agent Additions: Nick Merkley, Nick Bonino, Adin Hill, James Reimer, Andrew Cogliano
• Free Agent Subtractions: Martin Jones, Ryan Donato, Martin Jones, Devan Dubnyk, Josef Korenar
Biggest question facing the San Jose Sharks?
• The Evander Kane situation
What a mess. To say it has been a tumultuous year for Kane and the Sharks would be an understatement. He is coming off one of his best seasons in recent memory, having led the Sharks in pretty much every offensive category. But that is not what anybody is talking about right now as Kane has been the subject of multiple NHL investigations, including accusations that he bet on his team’s games, a domestic/sexual abuse investigation, and most recently an investigation into whether or not he violated the league’s COVID protocols.
He is currently not with the team at the start of training camp while the league conducts its investigations, and there is no clear word on when (or if?) he will return. The entire situation is the biggest cloud hanging over the team right now.
What’s the salary cap situation?
The biggest concern for the Sharks is the fact that all of their big money players, and the players the team has been built around, are all on the wrong side of 30. They currently have five players counting more than $7 million against the salary cap (Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasit, Kane, Logan Couture) and the youngest of that group is Kane at age 30. Karlsson, Burns, Vlasic, and Couture have already shown signs of starting to slow down. Some more significantly than others. Add a couple million of empty cap space for Martin Jones’ buyout and a significant chunk of their salary cap is going to players on the downside of their career or no longer with the team.
[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]
But the big concern is going to be after this season when Tomas Hertl, probably the team’s best current player, is an unrestricted free agent. If they want to keep him — and why wouldn’t they? — it is going to cost a significant amount of money, and there is not a lot of money coming off the books after this season without some trades being made.
Ferraro already took a pretty significant step a year ago and was given a pretty significant role on the Sharks’ blue line, logging more than 22 minutes a game and starting to look like a legitimate top-four defender. He was one of the Sharks’ most reliable defensive players, posting some of the best scoring chance and shot suppression numbers among the team’s defenders (via Natural Stat Trick). He is still only 22 years old and is probably not going to contribute a lot offensively, but there is still room for him to develop here into an even better defender than he has already shown. Probably the most intriguing young player on the current roster.
It all pretty much comes down to Couture, Karlsson, Burns, and Vlasic finding the fountain of youth and being able to squeeze out another year of productive hockey. That is especially true for the three big-money defenders. There was a time, not that long ago, that those three were the foundation of one of the league’s best defense units that helped make the Sharks a Stanley Cup contender. But they have all taken significant steps backwards in recent years and all seem to be a fraction of what they once were. If they can somewhat reverse that trend, and get some big years from players like Hertl, Timo Meier, and solid contributions from veterans additions like Nick Bonino and James Reimer in goal, they might be able to hang around in a weak Pacific Division playoff race.
There is a lot that can go wrong here. If Karlsson, Burns, and Vlassic continue their recent downward trends, there is virtually no chance for this team to be competitive, even in the Pacific Division. They also still have some major questions in goal where they are now going to be relying on James Reimer and Adin Hill. They should be upgrades over the duo they have been using the past couple of years, but enough of an upgrade to make up for a significantly weaker roster? Seems doubtful. Then there is the elephant in the room regarding Hertl. If the Sharks are out of contention and there is no movement on a new contract, do they trade their best player? Certainly seems like something that would have to at least be considered.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.