Following a healthy scratch in the Sharks’ 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Antti Suomela rejoined the Sharks’ lineup in Tuesday’s regulation win against Minnesota. However, when he returned, he was centring San Jose’s fourth line— a demotion to make room for Joe Thornton’s official debut as the third line centre. Suomela spent the game flanked by Rourke Chartier and Melker Karlsson, to which my reaction was one of gritted teeth.
A second round elimination at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights was not what anyone had in mind for the San Jose Sharks this time last year. But, after an unbelievable first NHL season on the Knights’ part, that is the reality Sharks fans are faced with. They once again ran headfirst into the team with magic on their side. Pittsburgh, Nashville, and now, Las Vegas.
With some promising prospects making a splash in junior and the minors, such as Jayden Halbgewachs winning top CHL scorer— the future looks bright for the Sharks, even with an ageing core and Joe Thornton’s future on rocky footing.
With Thornton expressing his desire to remain with the Sharks, and even stating he’s willing to take a paycut to do so, it’s hard to imagine him in any colour other than teal when October rolls around, if the rehab for a right ACL and MCL injury goes well. Set to turn 39 in July, Thornton put up 36 points in 47 games before getting injured, in a season where he was also returning from injury, a similar ACL and MCL issue, but in his left knee.
So, what should the priorities be this summer?
For San Jose it’s important to lock down key players like Tomas Hertl, coming off a two year bridge contract and finally finding his game with the Sharks. For Jannik Hansen and Joel Ward, their time in San Jose looks to be over, both are unrestricted free agents that the Sharks should look to avoid overpaying for. On top of this, there are big contracts coming up for Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski at the end of next season as both garner UFA status.
With word having been that the Sharks had a comfortable seat at the table for John Tavares, the announcement of the Evander Kane signing might throw a spanner in the works, especially if the Sharks are looking to keep as much of the current team as possible.
As mentioned by Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts column, if San Jose is looking to make a run for Tavares, it might push core bottom six forwards like Chris Tierney out of the roster, financially, in order to keep other important top six players around.
The defense situation for the Sharks is as solid as ever, and only Dylan Demelo (RFA) requires a new contract. Burns and Vlasic have big, long term contracts and are the only players outside of Kane that are signed past the 2020-21 season.
As long as Doug Wilson doesn’t look to hand out more deals like Evander Kane’s, things aren’t looking too bad for San Jose, especially if Chmelevski and Halbgewachs and Norris continue to develop well in their respective junior, minor and college placements.
Sharks fans shouldn’t feel too bad about the situation, but they should hope that Doug Wilson isn’t looking to flash more long term, high cost contracts this offseason for anyone other than Hertl.
The gorgeous salary cap situation the Sharks had before the Kane signing was Wilson’s to run wild with. This summer could be momentous for the Sharks, but at the same time it could be incredibly dull, and opinions seem to be swaying from one extreme to another.
Feature Image Credit: NHL.com