The Sharks’ descent from perennial playoff chokers into salary cap hell has been a tough one to watch. They didn’t hire a new GM until the first week of July, and chose failed Rangers bench boss David Quinn as their new head coach. The offseason was mostly unspectacular, aside from the fact that they were able to unload most of the Brent Burns contract. They are still at the cap right now… but baby steps are important.
Offseason additions: F Luke Kunin, F Oskar Lindblom, F Nico Sturm, F Steven Lorentz, D Markus Nutivaara, D Matt Benning, F Evgeny Svechnikov.
Offseason subtractions: D Brent Burns, D Nicolas Meloche, F John Leonard, G Adin Hill, F Rudolfs Balcers, F Jonathan Dahlen.
Playing on some bad Sharks teams has caused Timo Meier’s excellence to go under the radar. He had 162 hits and was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy, which goes on top of his 35 goals and 76 points. Meier was first on the team in both goals for percentage and expected goals for percentage by over a percentage point in each. Tomas Hertl’s eight-year extension will kick in this season. The goal for it is to not be the new horrible contract on the books for San Jose. Hertl scored 30 goals for the second time in 2021-22, while also eclipsing 60 points for the second time of his career. In his first full season at age 27, Alexander Barabanov mostly played on the first line. He racked up 39 points in 70 games, which isn’t bad considering he was acquired for an AHL forward currently playing in Sweden.
While he has definitely seen some things during his tenure with the Sharks, Logan Couture still produced last year. He scored 23 goals with 56 points, both his most since 2018-19. Aside from Meier, Couture was the only Sharks forward with an xGF% above fifty. While Luke Kunin scored 10 goals in 38 games in 2020-21, he followed that up with just 13 in a full 82 games last season. The 24-year-old added only nine assists, leading to Nashville trading him away this offseason. Part of the decline could be due to a complete change in play style. Kunin had 99 penalty minutes and 223 hits. Both of those were career-highs by a sizable margin. San Jose picked up Oskar Lindblom in free agency after the Flyers surprisingly non-tendered the young winger. Lindblom’s development was stunted by a rare cancer in 2019-20. When he came back the next year, he clearly wasn’t the same player as before. But Lindblom was solid on a horrible Philadelphia team in 2021-22, scoring 12 goals with 26 points. This is a guy who scored 11 goals in 30 games prior to his diagnosis. His role with the Sharks should be more than it was last season.
Before either player ended up with the Sharks, Luke Kunin and Nick Bonino were traded for each other in 2020. The veteran Bonino is still a very solid third line center who excels in his own end. He scored 16 goals in his first season with the team, and was second on the forward core in xGA/60. The only player ahead of him was winger Matt Nieto, at 2.19. In the second season of his second stint with the Sharks, Nieto had 17 points and 96 hits in 70 games. Neither Bonino nor Nieto produced much offensively, which could be mended by Kevin Labanc’s return. He was limited to just 21 games last year, scoring three goals with three assists. Labanc has shown offensive talent in the previous four seasons, averaging nearly 40 points.
After a Stanley Cup victory, Nico Sturm secured a three-year deal with the Sharks. He spent last year with the Wild and Avalanche, two very good teams. Sturm had no goals and six assists in 34 games for Colorado, split between the regular season and playoffs. He scored nine goals in 53 games for Minnesota. In his first NHL season with more than 30 games played, Noah Gregor had 23 points in 63 games. He also blocked 49 shots with 118 hits while only having 25 penalty minutes. As part of the return for Burns, the Sharks got Steven Lorentz back. A former seventh-round pick, Lorentz played in 67 games for the Hurricanes, scoring eight goals with five assists. Six years after becoming a first-round pick in the incredible 2015 draft, Evgeny Svechnikov finally secured a full-time NHL role. It came with the Jets, as he played in 72 games. Svechnikov scored seven goals with 19 points, both the most of his career. In a sheltered role, the six-foot-three winger had 104 hits. If the Sharks want physicality like that, the answer is Jeffrey Viel. While he had just five points in 34 games, Viel had 84 hits. The more eye-popping number is penalty minutes; Viel had 114 of them.
The departure of Burns leaves Erik Karlsson as the top dog in San Jose. He may not be worth his $11.5 million cap hit for the next five seasons, but Karlsson is still a very good player. Injuries bit him, which is something that he has been accustomed to. Karlsson scored 10 goals with 25 assists for 35 points in 50 games. His main partner, Jacob Middleton, was dealt to Minnesota at the deadline. That could open up Karlsson to play with Burns’ old partner, Mario Ferraro. Finishing second on the team in ice time, Ferraro had 14 points with 151 blocks and 140 hits in 63 games.
The decline of Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been in place for a number of years now, but the most telling number has been his ice time. On average, Vlasic’s share dropped to just over 15 minutes last season. Once a defensive stalwart, he was on the ice for 2.79 goals against per 60 minutes. The only regular defenseman who was worse than him was Nicolas Meloche, who the Sharks let go in free agency. Vlasic doesn’t even block as much shots anymore. Once a lock for triple-digits, he had just 90 in 75 games, with his ice time cut certainly playing a role in that. Nearly the entire Sharks defense is on a multi-year deal, including Radim Simek, who is yet to have played in 50 games in a single season. Simek had two points with 96 hits in 36 games last season.
Adding onto the motif of long contracts for depth defenders, the Sharks gave Matt Benning a four-year deal worth a total of $5 million this offseason. Benning has experience on the power play and had 11 points in 65 games for Nashville in 2021-22. The Sharks gave Markus Nutivaara $1.5 million to play this season, signifying that he will get a shot to be a regular. An incredibly vague injury cost Nutivaara all but one game last season. He had 10 assists in 30 games in 2020-21, and was a regular for Columbus prior to that. Jaycob Megna’s role could range from seventh-defender to the top pair, as he did get an extended look with Karlsson last season. Megna, who hadn’t played in the NHL since 2018-19, dressed for a career-high 44 games, recording eight points with 92 blocked shots.
The Sharks have struggled to find a goalie for a long time, but they did have two effective options by the end of the season. In exchange for Middleton, San Jose acquired Kaapo Kahkonen from Minnesota. Once considered to be the goalie of the future for the Wild, Kahkonen couldn’t take the job from Cam Talbot. In eleven games after the trade, he was solid, with a .916 save percentage and a 4.61 GSAx. Veteran James Reimer was also above league average in GSAx, and made a career-high 46 starts last season. Reimer had a .911 save percentage in his first year of stint number two in San Jose.
Timo Meier – Tomas Hertl – Alexander Barabanov
Oskar Lindblom – Logan Couture – Luke Kunin
Matt Nieto – Nick Bonino – Kevin Labanc
Noah Gregor – Nico Sturm – Steven Lorentz
Scratched: Evgeny Svechnikov, Jeffrey Viel
Mario Ferraro – Erik Karlsson
Radim Simek – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Markus Nutivaara – Matt Benning
Scratched: Jaycob Megna