Kevin Labanc

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Sharks’ Labanc bets big on himself with team-friendly extension

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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.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharks re-sign RFA Labanc to one-year deal

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The San Jose Sharks announced on Monday afternoon that they have signed restricted free agent forward Kevin Labanc to a one-year contract.

The team did not announce the financial terms of the deal, but Kevin Kurz of the Athletic reports it is worth only $1 million.

Both the one-year term and the low salary are a little bit of a surprise given how much progress Labanc made this past season and how much consistent improvement he has shown over his first three years in the league.

He will once again be a restricted free agent following the 2019-20 season and have arbitration rights.

“Kevin took a big step forward in his production last season and has grown into an important part of our team here in San Jose,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a team statement. “He’s always had a dangerous shot but really stepped into a playmaking role for us last season and improved his 200-foot game as well. We think he still has even more potential to tap into and we’re excited to see what he can do with an elevated role with this talented group.”

The 23-year-old Labanc appeared in all 82 games for the Sharks this past season, scoring 17 goals to go with 39 assists, setting career highs in both categories.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

His production, in terms of goals and points as well as his possession numbers, have increased every season he has been in the league.

If that progression continues during the 2019-20 season (and if he gets the bigger role he is hoping for, it should) he could be in line for a significant contract extension next summer.

It is difficult to call this one-year deal a “prove it” contract for Labanc because he has already shown he can perform at a top-six level, but it still kind of has that feel to it. Almost as if the Sharks want to see him do it again, and in a bigger role, before they really invest in him long-term.

With Labanc’s deal now completed, the next order of business for Wilson and the Sharks will be working out a new contract with Joe Thornton and re-signing restricted free agent Dylan Gambrell.

There is also the possibility of a Patrick Marleau reunion after his contract was bought out this summer by the Carolina Hurricanes (following a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

After re-signing Labanc the Sharks have around $5.5 million in salary cap space, so it is possible another roster move will have to be coming this summer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension

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For the San Jose Sharks, priority No. 1 has been checked off their offseason to-do list.

That bit came on Monday morning when the Sharks re-signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth what reports suggest will be $92 million once the team makes it official.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for one of the game’s premier rearguards, and rightly so. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson has game-breaking capabilities from the back end. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NHL.

But behind the elation general manager Doug Wilson is feeling at the moment, there also has to be a bit of trepidation.

With Karlsson’s contract expected to be in the $11.5 million AAV region, that leaves the Sharks with roughly $13 million in cap space remaining and only 16 players signed, including 11 forwards.

It’s safe to assume that the end of an era is coming for someone in the Bay Area.

Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are both unrestricted free agents come July 1. Thornton has signed one-year deals with the club for several years now. Pavelski enters the free agent arena for the first time in five seasons after completing the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal.

[MORE: Sharks give Karlsson eight-year extension]

Both are integral parts of the Sharks. And the Sharks may have to let them walk this time.

At 39, Thornton’s on-ice play isn’t worth the $5 million he made last season. He’s the de facto leader of the team, but the Sharks simply can’t afford him at that price point again. If they want him back, a low-salary, bonus-laden contract could be an option.

Losing Pavelski, their captain, would also be a blow.

Despite being 34 (35 next season), Pavelski had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. Not bad for $6 million, and perhaps he goes the Thornton route for a few years and signs one-year deals that allow the Sharks some breathing room.

Does Pavelski deserve a longer-term commitment? Sure. But the Sharks are once again going all-in with the Karlsson signing and this might be Pavelski’s best shot at a Stanley Cup ring as a captain of the team.

Aside from the two superstars, the Sharks need to make sure they lock down some of their younger talent.

Joonas Donskoi is set to become a UFA, as is Gustav Nyquist — a trade deadline pick up who meshed well with the team.

Nyquist is likely the odd-man out here. Going by Evolving Wild’s free agent model projection, Nyquist, 29, could earn a six-year deal in the $5.7 million range. That’s too rich if you’re planning on keeping Thornton and Pavelski around.

Donskoi, 27, is projected to get a three-year deal in the $3 million average annual value region.

And then there’s the restricted free agent crop.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have become great pieces for the Sharks and both now need raises.

Evolving Wild has Meier taking a six-year deal with a cap hit close to $6 million while Labanc is more affordable at three years and around $3.5 million.

Remember, the Sharks have $13 million to play with following the Karlsson extension.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Pavelski gets $7 million and Thornton gets $5 million. That’s $12 million and roughly $1 million left on the cap.

See the problem? And how many extensions do the Sharks want to give older players? Logan Couture‘s six-year, $8 million AAV deal kicks in next season. He’s 30. Brent Burns, 34, has six more years left on a deal that’s paying him the same amount as Couture per season.

The Sharks only need to look further down on a California state map to see Los Angeles and the devastating effects handing big contracts to old players can have.

Still, banners fly forever and the Kings have two of them and the Sharks have zero.

The Sharks could sell off some assets, too, including a Justin Braun ($3.8 million, one year left) or a Brenden Dillon ($3.2 million, one year left) on the back end for some cap relief.

And the point of this exercise is that someone has to go.

The question now is, who?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Power Rankings: Most surprising scorers in 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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You never know which player is going to emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a difference-maker.

It is not always the superstars.

While you certainly need your best players to shine if you are going to be the team lifting the Stanley Cup, it is not always going to about them when it comes to reaching that point. Sometimes they get shut down as the stars on either side cancel each other out in a best-of-seven series. When that happens it is going to come down to which team’s depth players can make an impact and get hot for a few weeks.

Sometimes you need someone else to emerge as a surprising source of offense.

That is the direction we are headed in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at some of the most surprising scorers in this postseason.

Are some of these runs unsustainable and the result of a short-term spike in shooting percentage? You bet they are! And there is nothing wrong with that, because every team that ends up winning a championship has one or two of these players get hot at the right time. Luck? Clutch? Call it whatever you want, but it is a necessary ingredient to win.

Also just want to point this out at the beginning: The only team to not have a player mentioned in this week’s Power Rankings is the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is not meant to be a slight or an omission, it is just that they do not really have anyone at this point that qualifies as a “surprise” point producer. The players driving their offense right now are the exact players you expect to be driving it: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski. Their stars are playing like stars. So far, they really have not needed a depth player to shine.

With that said, let’s go on to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. In his first 71 games during the regular season Foegele scored just seven goals for the Hurricanes. That’s it. Seven. In the 15 games that have followed (six regular season games, nine playoff games) he has scored eight goals, including five in the playoffs to lead the team. He also leads all NHL players this postseason with five even-strength goals. He continued his late-season surge on Sunday when he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 2-1 come-from-behind win and was a constant source of offense in their Round 1 upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes have been hammered by injuries in these playoffs but just keep finding ways to win, and the emergence of Foegele (even if it is the result of a 33 percent shooting percentage right now) is a big reason why.

2. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Prior to his trade to Boston at the deadline, Coyle was having a really down year for the Minnesota Wild and things didn’t get much better for him after being sent to the Bruins. In his first 21 games with his new team he managed just two goals and was looking to be a bit of a disappointment as a deadline acquisition. Not anymore. Late season additions like Coyle are usually measured by what they do in the postseason, and through the first two games of Round 2 he is leading the team in goals (five) and is second in total points (seven). Some of those goals have been massive ones, including the overtime winner in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets after tying the game late in regulation, and an early goal in Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs that set the tone for them to even that series.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars. When you play the Stars you know you are going to have to shut down their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. And as expected, all three have been great so far in the playoffs. What has made the Stars such a dangerous team now is the emergence of a second scoring line that has helped balance their lineup and take some of the pressure off of their top trio. It is there that we find Hintz, a 22-year-old rookie, that has caught fire over the past five games and enters Game 3 of their series against the St. Louis Blues just one point back of Benn for the team lead in scoring with seven points. He and Mats Zuccarello have been tremendous together and were dominant in the Stars’ Game 2 win in St. Louis.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. They may not be a lot of household names, but the Hurricanes’ defense is one of the best units in the NHL from top to bottom. They are all young, they are all signed long-term, and they are all really good when it comes to limiting shots and chances against their goalies. Slavin is one of the best all-around players out of that group, but his best asset has probably always been his ability to shut teams down. He is still helping to do that in the playoffs, but has also been a surprising point producer having already recorded 10 assists (tops in the NHL this postseason) in his first nine games. Seven of those assists have come during 5-on-5 play, an area where no other player in the NHL has more than five this postseason.

5. Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche. Nieto scored just four goals in 64 regular season games for the Avalanche. He already has three goals (to go with two assists) in seven postseason games. What is even more astonishing is that two of those goals this postseason are shorthanded goals. For his career, he had just four shorthanded goals (total) in 402 regular season games. He also scored a huge goal on Sunday night to help the Avalanche even their series with the San Jose Sharks.

6. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. A sixth-round pick by the Sharks in 2014, Labanc has shown steady improvement all three years he has been in the NHL and has really made an impact in the playoffs. He had four points as part of their insane Game 7 rally against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Game 1 against the Avalanche to help the Sharks jump out to an early season lead.

7. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has been a really good player in St. Louis for a few years now, and you can usually pencil him in for 25 goals and 50 points at the start of every season and he won’t let you down. This season was the exception, mainly due to the fact he was hammered by a 6 percent shooting percentage that was significantly below his career average. That is how he makes the cut as a “surprising” scorer this postseason. Eventually, though, regression to the mean kicks in and some of those bounces he wasn’t getting during the regular season will start going his way. That has happened in the playoffs where he has already scored five goals for the Blues (after scoring just 11 in 69 regular season games). That includes a stretch where he scored four consecutive Blues goals to finish off the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, scoring a late-game-winning goal in Game 5, and then scoring all three goals in their series-clinching Game 6 win.

8. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. The only reason he is eighth is because, well, he has traditionally been a really good top-six winger. He is not some young player that came out of nowhere with a hot streak, or a role player that just happened to go on a goal-scoring run at the right time. But like Schwartz in St. Louis, he did have a bit of a down regular season for the Islanders so that makes his resurgence here in the postseason at least a little bit of a surprise. So far he has at least one point in five of the Islanders’ first six games, and scored at least one goal in each of their four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with all of those goals being game-changers.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.