The weekend, and two more games in a jaunt through the Central Division, are all that stands in the way of the Sharks and the trade deadline at noon P.S.T on Monday.
With the silly season right around the corner, let’s take a look at the biggest questions surrounding the team ahead of this year’s deadline.
What are the Sharks going to do ahead of the deadline?
That’s the $21 million-to-$25 million question, isn’t it?
No disrespect to Regis, but that’s about how much salary cap space the Sharks would have this summer, if the salary cap next season rises to as low as $78 million, or as high as $82 million. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman offered those projected figures back in December.
If San Jose is willing to eat into its cap space, which general manager Doug Wilson is reportedly intent on preserving, there could be some serious trade activity. If not, Wilson and co. may be in for a quiet deadline.
What position(s) should they address?
A top-six, scoring forward is the biggest need. Whether or not Joe Thornton returns from injury this season, the Sharks could use some additional scoring punch.
Their five-on-five scoring rate (2.24 goals per 60 minutes) is the seventh-worst in the league, and they don’t currently have the offensive firepower to keep pace with the best in the West.
Who fits the bill?
Pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) wingers like Evander Kane and Rick Nash will likely command a greater return than the Sharks are willing to give up, as Wilson said he’s not interested in trading for high-priced rentals.
Mike Hoffman, Max Pacioretty, and Mats Zuccarello are reportedly available wingers with a year left on their contracts beyond this season, but would count $5.187 million, $4.5 million, and $4.5 million against the salary cap, respectively. Cheaper rentals, like Patrick Maroon, Lee Stempniak, or Thomas Vanek, offer lower-cost alternatives.
Down the middle, the Sharks have arguably had the strongest reported links to Derick Brassard, but Ottawa’s reportedly asking for a first-round pick, a prospect, and another piece in any deal (UPDATE: Feb. 23, 6:19 p.m. PST -- The Senators officially traded Brassard to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a compliated deal involving the Vegas Golden Knights as a third team, after the league reportedly did not initially approve the trade). Tomas Plekanec may strike a sweet spot, as a soon-to-be UFA whose age means he won’t command a premium.
You’ve mentioned prices. What assets do the Sharks have at their disposal?
The Sharks have their first-round pick in 2018, but having no picks in the second or third round of the draft limits what they can do. San Jose doesn’t have a ton of blue-chip prospects in its system, but there are some intriguing names.
University of Denver junior Dylan Gambrell is second on the defending national champion Pioneers in points (36) and first in assists (25), and 2016 first-round pick Josh Norris represented the United States at the World Juniors in January. Given how thin the prospect pool is, though, the Sharks may be better off hanging onto them.
Since they’ve yo-yoed out of the lineup, one has to wonder if the Sharks would be willing to include Danny O’Regan or Tim Heed in a trade. Neither is particularly young as far as prospects go (O’Regan is 24 and Heed is 27), but they’re a season removed from performing well in the AHL.
What about expiring contracts?
Thornton, backup goaltender Aaron Dell, and forwards Eric Fehr, Jannik Hansen, and Joel Ward are the only pending UFAs this summer.
It’s unlikely the Sharks trade any of these three for various reasons, not the least of which are the various no-trade/no-movement clauses in Thornton, Hansen, and Ward’s contracts. It’s even less likely they’d get much in return.
Who else might move?
Defenseman Paul Martin seems to be a likely candidate. Waived in January after the emergence of Joakim Ryan, Martin’s back with the Sharks on this road trip.
He’s signed with the Sharks for another season at $4.85 million, and San Jose could have even more cap space this summer if he’s dealt. His agent was working with Wilson to find a trade destination last month. Can they find one before lunchtime Monday?
What might their division rivals try to do?
Vegas has more salary cap space than any playoff team, and needs on the blueline. Anaheim has a tenuous hold on the Pacific’s third and final postseason spot, decent cap flexibility, and four picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft.
Los Angeles has been among the most active teams, acquiring defenseman Dion Phaneuf as well as forwards Tobias Rieder and Nate Thompson, among others, and they still might do more. Calgary reportedly continues to look for a scoring winger.
Edmonton, Vancouver, and Arizona, meanwhile, seem likely to sell in order to bottom out in the race for likely No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin.