Kevin Labanc

NHL rumors: Sharks' Kevin Labanc receiving interest from 'multiple teams'


NHL rumors: Sharks' Kevin Labanc receiving interest from 'multiple teams'

After having a career year, Kevin Labanc appears to be in high demand.

The 23-year-old tallied 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) and steadied himself once he joined Joe Thornton's line. Labanc will become a restricted free agent July 1, and although the Sharks would love to keep him, they might have some competition for the young winger, according to David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period.

On Tuesday, the Sharks issued qualifying offers to Labanc and six others, meaning the Sharks retain their rights and are entitled to compensation should any of the seven players sign an offer sheet with another team.

That's what makes the possibility of Labanc leaving a bit far-fetched.

If Labanc did sign an offer sheet, the Sharks would be entitled to compensation based on the salary he received.

No player has signed an offer sheet since 2013, and much of the offer sheet talk has been overblown. Most hockey general managers are too scared to put pen to paper when it comes to offer sheets.

[RELATED: Stay or go: Why keeping Nyquist could be hard for Sharks]

The Sharks have a tenuous cap situation after the Erik Karlsson signing. They are slotted to have only $14.8 million left and could lose Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist all of whom are unrestricted free agents.

Smart money is on Labanc returning to San Jose, but anything is possible.

Sharks issue qualifying offers to Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and five others


Sharks issue qualifying offers to Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and five others

The Sharks took their first step towards re-signing restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

San Jose issued qualifying offers to Meier, Labanc, Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela and three others on Tuesday. That means the Sharks retain their rights as restricted free agents, and would be entitled to compensation if any of the seven players signed an offer sheet with another team. 

Now comes the hard part. The Sharks, who have just over $14.8 million in salary-cap space according to Cap Friendly, risk losing forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist as unrestricted free agents. Retaining all three and re-signing Meier, Labanc and Gambrell will be difficult if not impossible, even if the restricted trio sign bridge contracts. 

Meanwhile, the Sharks didn't issue qualifying offers to seven other restricted free agents. Defenseman Joakim Ryan and forward Rourke Chartier headline the group, all of whom can become unrestricted free agents. Tuesday marked the deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers to RFAs, which would ensure they would receive compensation in the unlikely event of an offer sheet. Now, the Sharks won't receive any compensation should Chartier or Ryan sign elsewhere. 

Ryan, 26, played in 44 regular-season games last year as rookie blueliner Radim Simek seized a spot among the Sharks' top six defensemen. While Ryan didn't play between Jan. 23 and March 13, Simek's season-ending knee injury allowed Ryan to draw back into the lineup from mid-March onward. He suited up for every Stanley Cup playoff game, but played the fewest minutes per game of any of the team's defensemen (8:41) during the postseason. 

With fellow left-handed defensemen Mario Ferraro (2017 second-round pick), Jacob Middleton (made his NHL debut last year) and Tony Sund (35 points in 60 games in Finland last year) still on their entry-level contracts for next season, it's conceivable Ryan has played his last game in teal.

[RELATED: Can cap-strapped Sharks afford to keep Donskoi?]

Chartier, 23, made the team out of training camp and scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 28. He returned to the AHL's San Jose Barracuda for good on Jan. 13, but did not suit up after Feb. 22. Sommer told reporters shortly after that Chartier had "upper-body issues," and the forward was concussed twice in the previous season. 

It's possible that Ryan and/or Chartier re-signs. A year ago Tuesday, the Sharks did not issue a qualifying offer to defenseman Dylan DeMelo. San Jose re-signed DeMelo on July 7, before including him in the package to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. 

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should winger Kevin Labanc stay or go?


Sharks free-agency decisions: Should winger Kevin Labanc stay or go?

You'll be hard-pressed to identify a Sharks player who had more of a turnaround season than Kevin Labanc

For the first portion of the season, his biggest contribution was being the guy who regularly served the "too many men" penalty for the Sharks. But after spending solid playing time on a line with Joe Thornton, the 23-year-old winger evolved into a difference-maker during San Jose's topsy-turvy playoff run.

Now Labanc is one of many young Sharks who will become restricted free agents on July 1. Here's why he could stay in San Jose, and why he could be headed somewhere else.

Why he could stay

Second only to Timo Meier, Labanc is the top pending RFA the Sharks want to keep for the future.

The sixth-round pick from the 2014 draft broke onto the scene in the second half of the season. He started his first full season with 24 points (4 goals, 20 assists), 24 penalty minutes, and a minus-five rating. Then, from the start of the new year up through the end of the regular season, he improved to 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists), 12 penalty minutes and a plus-four rating. 

Some of that improvement can be contributed to working so closely with a veteran like Thornton. But it also has to do with changing his work ethic.

"Kevin’s a kid that has worked at his game since I got here, since four years ago at development camp,” head coach Peter DeBoer said back in February after Labanc registered his first NHL hat trick against the Oilers. “He’s learned how to work. He’s learned from the Joe Thorntons and the Joe Pavelskis and the Brent Burnses of the world to put in extra time and take care of your body.

"He’s changed everything about his habits. (You) get rewarded for that.”

Why he could go

Even though Labanc is a restricted free agent the Sharks will want to sign, there's still a chance that doesn't happen.

San Jose still has cap space to clear up after signing Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal earlier this week, and still has 20 other pending free agents without contracts. After trading long-time Sharks' defenseman Justin Braun to the Flyers, it's clear very few players are safe from trade talks -- even one who has worked as hard as Labanc. 

The verdict

Even with the Sharks primed to make more moves this offseason, it seems likely No. 62 will stay in San Jose. 

Labanc put in a lot of work in the 2018-19 season to improve on his individual game and have a positive impact on the team. This sets the stage for him to continue evolving his game, and the Sharks likely want him around for the foreseeable future. With San Jose looking to crank up their depth scoring this season, Labanc is a staple piece they'll want to keep in the mix -- especially if his linemate Thornton returns for another season.

If Labanc can have a better start to next season than he did the last, there's no telling the positive impact he'll have on San Jose's offensive depth.