San Jose Sharks 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

San Jose Sharks 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
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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.

Breakout Candidate

Mario Ferraro

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.

Best-Case Scenario

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.

Worst-Case Scenario

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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    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.