What can the Sharks do this summer to get a second chance?
It’s never easy to come back after a crushing defeat.
Despite coming so close to winning it all, the San Jose Sharks will be forced to rebound in 2016-17. Though they’ll still need to make the playoffs and make a deep run, they should be in a position to succeed once again.
We’ll take a look at the cap situation, their own free agents, and which players they should target to reload for another run at the Stanley Cup. Though Sharks fans may not be feeling it now, there’s no reason why the team can’t make a similar (if not better) run next year.
The short answer: not great, but it could be a lot worse.
The Sharks enter the 2016 offseason with about $10.5 million in cap space, according to General Fanager. They have about a $60.9 million dollar cap hit, which puts them just about in the middle of the cap and the floor. The $10.5 million cap space number is the 10th-lowest in the league. This gives them a little bit of cash to work with this summer when it comes to resigning and reloading, but it still could be better. But, it could also be a lot worse.
Most of the team’s payroll (as is the case with most teams) is locked up in forwards. A tick over 48 percent of their salary goes to forwards. They only have nine forwards under contract though when you factor in current unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and restricted free agents (RFAs). This indicates a need for some spending there. They’ll also need to add a goalie, as 28-year-old James Reimer’s contract has ended, which leaves San Jose with only one goalie.
One interesting tidbit on the Sharks’ cap situation is the number of contracts they are still able to take on. As of now, they have only 36 contracts that count toward the 50-man roster, leaving a gap of 14 contracts. Some of these will be made up of re-signings, and some will be left open to leave flexibility for roster moves. Even still, the Sharks are able to add some professional contracts to their roster. But, the $10.5 million in cap space might not be enough to fill these spots with NHL-quality talent.
When it comes to unrestricted free agents, the Sharks have enough to ice a full shift — three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie. Luckily for the Sharks, these players’ productions will not be seriously missed should they decide to walk.
The forwards are Nick Spaling (2-4-6 in 23 games with the Sharks after starting the season in Toronto), Dainius Zubrus (3-4-7), and Michael Haley (1-0-1 in 16 games). The defensemen are Roman Polak (0-3-3 in 24 games after coming over from St. Louis) and Matt Tennyson (1-3-4 in 29 games). The goalie is James Reimer, who started only eight games this year while backing up Martin Jones.
None of these players are particularly irreplaceable. In fact, none of the skaters mentioned had a positive Corsi relative, meaning their Corsi for percentages were lower than the team’s Corsi for percentage with them off the ice. This opens a couple options for the Sharks. They can pursue different players in free agency, or should have the opportunity to re-sign them at a team friendly deal.
Restricted free agents are a different story. Highlighting the list for San Jose is 22-year-old forward Tomas Hertl. Hertl has a career year in his third NHL season, scoring 21 goals and notching 25 assists. Similarly, 23-year-olds Matt Nieto and Dylan Demelo are also restricted free agents. Of course, the Sharks can choose to match any other offer these players might get. But, it could cost a little more to retain a young talent like Hertl for long-term.
Even though the Sharks have some solid young talent up for extensions, this should come as good news for Sharks fans. The core of the team — guys like Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, etc. — will be intact coming into next year. This gives them the opportunity to add a few role players to compliment the high scoring offense.
Free Agent Targets
With the core still in place, the Sharks should look to some younger players that can help out with scoring depth and penalty killing. Both of these areas proved problematic in the Stanley Cup Final and contributed to their demise.
The reach pick would be forward Mikkel Boedker. He’s only 26 years old and posted 51 points last year between Arizona and Colorado. His possession metrics improved after his trade, as he went from -1.2 Corsi relative with Arizona to a 4.4 Corsi relative with Colorado. The issue here is that he’s coming off a contract in which he had a $3.75 million cap hit last year. In order to sign him, it would depend on how much San Jose gives to their younger restricted free agents and whether they decide to bring back Roman Polak.
Polak’s cap hit was $2.75 million last season, so a cheaper option on the blue line could open up this possibility. There’s sure to be multiple teams that have him high on their list, which will certainly jack up his price. Teams are allowed to surpass the cap by 10% during the offseason. A surprise signing and a draft day trade could make this happen. Even still, it’s unlikely. But Boedkker would make for a great fit.
Forwards Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe — both 28 years old — could be better cap friendly options. Grabner is an interesting case, as he had a cap hit of $3 million last season, but struggled tremendously. He scored only nine goals in 80 games and posted an ugly -5.5 Corsi relative with Toronto. He does have a history of scoring, though, with seasons of 34, 20, and 16 goals under his belt. His rough season may hurt his value on the market. Taking a flyer on the veteran forward could offer some great rewards.
Gerbe also struggled last year while playing third line minutes in Carolina, though his already low cap hit of $1.75 million is promising for teams trying to negotiate down. He doesn’t have the history like Grabner, but Gerbe can be a serviceable forward who posted 10 and 16 goal seasons in the two years just before this one. He might not bring the rewards Boedkker and Grabner could bring, but he’s likely able to fit on the roster without some extra roster posturing. Gerbe could be worth a look.
San Jose should also look into New Jersey free agent defenseman David Schlemko. Schlemko quietly had a strong season in the Garden State, posting a 3.7 Corsi relative. He also played just under 140 minutes on the penalty kill, making him a lucrative penalty kill option. He’s also just 28, and made only $625,000 this past season. Schlemko is certainly in position to get a raise. But the Sharks may have the opportunity to set the course for the negotiations. It would also allow them to let the 30-year-old Polak walk, making their blue line a couple years younger while also opening up some space.
Overall, the Sharks don’t have much to work with when it comes to cap space. But, they also don’t have too many holes. The return of their core players gives them a good chance to make another run, while their cap situation should give them some flexibility to improve.
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