Sharks

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

SAN JOSE – There are no glaring holes for the San Jose Sharks to fill ahead of next week's NHL trade deadline on March 1.

Still, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is a notorious tire-kicker, and he’s surely working the phones these days to see if there’s anything out there that could help his hockey club, which has a comfortable five-point lead on the Pacific Division midway through its bye week.

“We’ll see, but we do feel really good about this group,” Wilson told CSN earlier this month. “We believe in our players and we believe in our guys on the Barracuda, because they’ve earned that.

“Having said that, our history speaks for itself. If there’s a way to help this hockey team or add something, we’ve always done it, and we’ll always explore it.”

So, what might the Sharks be exploring? There are two areas that make the most sense – a backup goaltender, and a scoring winger.

* * *

No question Aaron Dell has exceeded expectations in his first NHL season. He’s 7-3-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .934 SP in 12 games, and his .953 even-strength save percentage is tops in the league among goalies that have played at least 10 games.

Still, it’s unknown if Dell would be able to handle the day-to-day grind, if anything were to happen to Jones. Even in the minors last season when he earned the number one job with the Barracuda, he wasn’t playing three and four games a week due to the AHL’s Pacific Division having fewer games than the rest of the league. He’s also not been overly tested at the NHL level – of Dell’s 10 starts, only one has come against a team currently in playoff position, and the Calgary Flames are only barely in the second Wild Card spot.

There are some goalies thought to be trade bait as pending unrestricted free agents. They include Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavalec, the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak, or Philadelphia goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. All could likely be gotten for some combination of young players and/or draft picks.

But is it worth it for the Sharks to make a move for a player that might not even be needed in the postseason? According to one NHL analyst, the Sharks should just take their chances with the inexperienced North Dakota product.

“I probably wouldn’t put a whole lot of resources in [finding a backup goalie],” NBCSN analyst Keith Jones told CSN on the latest Sharks Insider Podcast. “If Martin Jones was injured you’d have a real problem, it would be tough to find a goalie to replace what he brings to the table. I know they tried James Reimer last year, and the book is out on him. … I’m not sure that that’s a major upgrade on Aaron Dell.”

That said, Keith Jones would like to see Martin Jones – who’s on pace to play 69.5 games – get more time off after the schedule resumes. That means increased playing time for Dell.

“I think you might just want to take a chance with your backup a little more frequently,” Jones said. “You may want to sacrifice a few games along the way. [Dell] gains some experience, and Jones gets some rest.”

The impression here is that the Sharks will probably stick with Dell. Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has been nothing short of glowing in his reviews of Dell lately, as well he should be. The goalie has earned his place on this team, and none of the other goalies that the Sharks could acquire would be obvious upgrades at this stage of the season.

* * *

A much stronger case can be made that the Sharks are in need of another scoring winger. 

While the offense has been more dangerous in recent weeks than it was over the first half of the season, it still doesn’t look as effective as it was last season going into the playoffs, when it finished fourth in the league. Yes, the power play has been relatively power-less, but there’s more to it than that.

Mikkel Boedker has been a disappointment after signing a four-year deal as a free agent, and was benched yet again on Sunday. Joonas Donskoi, still out with what looks like a shoulder injury, hasn’t taken that next step after his strong playoff run last season. Joel Ward is off his scoring pace from last year. Patrick Marleau has been outstanding, but remains streaky. Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier have done some nice things as rookies, but neither of them has “arrived” yet, to borrow a word commonly used by DeBoer. Nikolay Goldobin failed in his two-game tryout last week, too.

Finding a winger to play on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line should be a priority, as DeBoer has tried seven different wingers there this season without finding a permanent fit. 

Among the veterans that could be available are Dallas’ Patrick Sharp or Patrick Eaves, Arizona’s Shane Doan, Colorado’s Jarome Iginla, Detroit's Thomas Vanek, or even Vancouver’s Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, if the club is looking for a more agitating type.

Sharp is perhaps the most intriguing name on that list. Although he’s been hurt off and on this season and his numbers are down on a bad Dallas team, he’s a veteran scorer that has won three Stanley Cups as part of Chicago’s dynasty. He’s an obvious upgrade over the players that have rotated through the Thornton line.

Bringing in one of those aforementioned forwards would require some salary cap juggling (especially Sharp, who carries a $5.9 million cap hit) and perhaps a salary from the current roster going the other way, as the Sharks don’t have a whole lot of room right now. But it’s worth exploring, as a consistent offensive attack should be this team’s biggest worry right now with seven weeks until the postseason.

* * *

If the Sharks don’t make a move, DeBoer and company are still confident with the team in the dressing room. After all, most of those players were a part of the team’s run last season, when the Sharks were just two wins from capturing the Stanley Cup.

“For us, it’s not whether a piece comes in or whether we don’t bring any pieces in, I think we’re confident in our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s about us…playing to our identity for as long a stretch as is possible, because that’s what wins in the playoffs. Whether we don’t do anything or whether a piece comes in here, I don’t think that mindset changes.”

Justin Braun said: “Management is going to do what they’re going to do, but if they don’t do anything, we have confidence with everyone in here to get the job done.”

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

The Sharks undoubtedly would prefer if both players were healthy, but San Jose can take advantage of Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson's season-ending injuries. 

Hertl already is on long-term injured reserve after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee last month, and Karlsson should soon join him after breaking his thumb. That puts the Sharks in a unique position heading into the trade deadline, as the fine folks at Cap Friendly observed Saturday. 

The Sharks were 11 points back of the Western Conference's final wild-card spot as of this writing, with four teams between them and the Arizona Coyotes. San Jose also doesn't own a 2020 first-round pick as a condition of the Erik Karlsson trade, and its prospect pool is considered to be one of the weakest in the NHL. It would make a lot of sense, then, for the Sharks to take on -- or retain -- salary in exchange for prospects and/or picks. 

There are a host of playoff contenders lacking salary-cap space, as Cap Friendly noted. The Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames all currently have fewer than $3 million in space, per Cap Friendly. Trading with a Pacific Division rival might prove difficult, but Sharks general manager Doug Wilson should be able to field calls from the likes of the Florida Panthers ($141,250 in current space), Philadelphia Flyers ($2.08 million), Washington Capitals ($2.45 million), Dallas Stars ($2.93 million), Boston Bruins ($3.12 million) and Pittsburgh Penguins ($3.51 million), among others. 

Finding a contract is another matter entirely. The Stars could trade injured center Martin Hanzal, but he already is on LTIR. It's difficult to envision the Panthers trading pending free-agent winger Mike Hoffman or the Capitals dealing soon-to-be free-agent goalie Braden Holtby for salary relief, let alone when you consider both players' trade protection (and Hoffman's history with Erik Karlsson).

The Bruins would love to trade David Backes, but he won't become a free agent until 2022 and can't be placed on LTIR after Bruins general manager Don Sweeney admitted Backes was "fit and able to play" after being waived. Wilson said he wants the Sharks to contend in 2021, and they can't afford to have another $5 million against the cap considering how many players have signed long-term contracts in the last few years. 

[RELATED: Why Hannan sees silver lining in Karlsson injury for Sharks]

Retaining salary seems to be a likelier option. The Sharks' pending free agents all have manageable contracts, but defenseman Brenden Dillon -- rumored to be one of the top blue liners available -- could be more appealing if teams aren't taking on all $3.275 million of his salary-cap hit. 

The trade deadline now is just over a week away, and the Sharks probably won't be buyers as a result of Hertl and Karlsson's injuries. They'll still be in an advantageous position, however, and Wilson has a chance to start re-stocking San Jose's pool of prospects and draft picks. 

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson will undergo season-ending thumb surgery on Monday in Los Angeles, he told reporters Sunday. 

Dr. Steven Shin will operate on Karlsson's broken thumb. Shin also operated on Warriors star Steph Curry and New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees in the past. 

Karlsson broke his thumb Friday in the Sharks' 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair first reported the news Saturday. It was later confirmed by the team. 

The 29-year-old told reporters Sunday that he injured his thumb when he was hit with a slap shot, not from falling over teammate Joe Thornton. He said the initial X-rays didn't show anything complicated. 

[RELATED: Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth]

Karlsson has scored 40 points -- six goals, 34 assists -- this season in 56 games. His 5.0 shooting percentage is his best since the 2016-17 season, but Karlsson's minus-15 plus-minus is his the third-worst of his 11-year career.

The Sharks re-signed Karlsson to a massive eight-year, $92 million contract last June. Since acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators before last season, Karlsson has scored 85 points -- nine goals, 76 assists -- in 109 regular-season games.