The San Jose Sharks are coming off their worst season in 15 years. It was only the second time in 22 years that they failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yet this is still a club that’s just one season removed from playing in the Conference Finals. It is really anyone’s guess as to how the Sharks will fare in the upcoming 2020-21 season.
Are they a team in need of a rebuild, or do they have the potential for a few deep playoff runs in their immediate future? This upcoming campaign should be a big indicator of which direction this salary-cap-strapped team is heading, and the answer should influence its approach to the NHL Expansion Draft next summer.
This offseason the Sharks acquired Devan Dubnyk (G) and Ryan Donato (F) in separate trades with the Minnesota Wild. They also added depth forward Matt Nieto and brought back Sharks legend and former Seattle Thunderbird, Patrick Marleau (F), both on one-year deals via free agency.
The Sharks do not have any pending UFAs that will impact the Expansion Draft after the 2021 season. Both Erik Karlsson (D) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (D) have no-move clauses (NMC), and we will assume they will not waive those clauses.
The roster is fairly set, so any wildcards will be driven by trades or UFA signings after this article is published.
The Sharks forward core of Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl are pretty much locks to be protected. We would add 24-year-old, Kevin LeBanc, and 22-year-old prospect, Jonathan Dahlen, to the protected list. Dahlen has yet to play in the NHL but seems to be knocking on the door.
The seventh protected forward spot will come down to Bonney Lake’s own Dylan Gambrell, former Thunderbird, Alexander True, or either Maxim Letunov or newly acquired Ryan Donato.
Here are the cases to be made for protecting each of those players:
- Gambrell has the most offensive upside.
- True is the youngest of the four and appeared to belong in the NHL when he was called up at the end of last year.
- Letunov had two quality development years in the AHL.
- Donato has the most NHL experience with 130 games.
Who gets protected will really come down to how these players progress during the 2020-21 season. At this point, we are going to project that Donato is protected based on the fact that he is the only one to have shown that he can contribute in the NHL as an everyday player.
- Logan Couture (Lock)
- Timo Meier (Lock)
- Thomas Hertl (Lock)
- Evander Kane (Lock)
- Kevin LeBanc
- Jonathan Dahlen
- Ryan Donato
As stated above, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have no-move clauses and will take two of the three protected defense slots. At first glance, you might assume Brent Burns would be the third protected defenseman for the Sharks. After all, Burns has been an offensive juggernaut for the Sharks over the last six seasons. He had 128 points in 152 games over the last two seasons. However, he will be 36 next summer and will have four more years left on his contract that has a cap hit of $8M a year.
Those are all important things to consider if there ends up being another up-and-coming defenseman that would be exposed with the protection of Burns. Assuming that there is no major drop-off in production from the hockey-playing caveman, then Burns should be the third protected defenseman in the Expansion Draft.
- Erik Karlsson (NMC – Lock)
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic (NMC – Lock)
- Brent Burns
Both Dubnyk and Martin Jones are looking for rebound years after somewhat disastrous 2019-20 performances. At this time, we do not see any reason why the Sharks would protect Jones, who has underperformed since signing his six-year deal in 2017. Dubnyk is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, so there is no real benefit to San Jose for protecting him either. The only other goalie candidate to protect is a 22-year-old in their AHL franchise, Josef Korenar.
- Josef Korenar
Top Expansion Candidates for Seattle Kraken
- Dylan Gambrell
- Alexander True
- Maxim Letunov
- Radim Simek
- Martin Jones
Either Gambrell or True would be a storybook scenario given their Pacific Northwest ties, but before the story is written, the Kraken will need to make sure they are everyday NHLers in the league. Both appear to be destined for the top level, and this next season will be a huge indicator on their broader outlook.
Letunov is in the same boat but might spend one more year in the AHL before getting his opportunity. Simek is a serviceable defenseman, should the Kraken determine that they can fill out their forward roster with selections from other teams. If San Jose ends up exposing Burns, and he has a normal season by his standards, the Kraken will have a hard time not picking him.
Side Deal Scenarios
The Sharks are up against the salary cap and have a few big contracts that they might want to shed. The Kraken’s biggest asset is cap space, which could make for a pretty good match. Of the players without a NMC, Martin Jones has the biggest potential to be part of a side deal with Seattle, but it still seems like Jones would need to have a bit of a bounce back year for Seattle to consider picking him. His $5.7M cap hit would be on the high side for a potential back-up
goalie, but it might help the Kraken hit the cap floor requirement per the Expansion Draft rules.