Sharks

How coronavirus could impact Sharks' salary cap, 2020 NHL Draft plans

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AP

How coronavirus could impact Sharks' salary cap, 2020 NHL Draft plans

While the Sharks' top priority is the health and safety of their players, employees and surrounding community, there's no denying that the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is going to severely impact San Jose's bottom line.

Though Sharks president Jonathan Becher couldn't give a specific value, he admitted Tuesday that the financial losses would "be a big number" and will "significantly exceed what [the franchise] traditionally experiences and be the largest it has been before."

San Jose is not alone in that reality. With no games being played, all 31 NHL teams are going to experience something similar.

Even so, Becher anticipates that the Sharks will spend up to the salary cap this offseason. Of course, nobody knows if or when the current season will resume, when the next one will begin or what the salary cap will be set at. F

or general manager Doug Wilson, whose directive is to get San Jose back to a level of contention in short order, the ambiguity of the situation isn't a desirable added challenge and he must have contingencies prepared.

"This is a difficult situation for everybody, as a community, as a society -- and that's what the priority is," Wilson said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "On the hockey side, we look at it and we say, OK, when it does start up -- and it will start up again, whether it be for this season or next season -- here are the parameters we have to operate under.

"We may need to have younger players coming, or players on entry-level contracts. We may have to make some tough decisions on some key players. That's just going to be the nature of our business. We've had to go through this before, and as I said, it's the same for everybody. So, you plan and you go down parallel paths of, whatever may come, you're prepared for. It doesn't make it easy, but that's our job."

Wilson hasn't been through a previous pandemic with the NHL, but he was the Sharks' GM during the 2004-05 lockout, which is about as close as the league has recently been to the current situation. He is hopeful those tough decisions are kept to a minimum, but he isn't wasting valuable time and energy worrying about what might or might not happen.

"I think every team has got that same concern," Wilson responded when asked about potentially buying out one or more players. "Am I fearful? No. It'll be mandated to us what the rules are moving forward, what the cap is and all that. So, until then, we just focus on the things that we can focus on, which is preparing for the draft, preparing for some decisions with players that could be available, such as Brinson [Pasichnuk] and John [Leonard].

"We've got a couple more things in the hopper that we're looking at right now. Potentially, who could be UFAs. You look under every rock to find ways to get better."

Just this week, Wilson got two collegiate stars in Pasichnuk and Leonard to agree to join the organization. Leonard was San Jose's sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who just finished as the NCAA's leading goal scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist for UMass, while Pasichnuk was a three-year standout at Arizona State. Suddenly, that 2018 draft, in which the Sharks drafted top prospect Ryan Merkeley and selected another who ultimately was traded for high-scoring Swede Jonathan Dahlen, has the look of a franchise-altering one.

Given the current state of the Sharks, Wilson knows the upcoming 2020 draft class must do the same. He reloaded San Jose's pick arsenal at the trade deadline, and the Sharks will now go into the 2020 NHL draft with seven selections, including three in the first 60 picks.

Wilson and his staff are doing their best to capitalize on such a crucial draft, though social distancing has forced them to get creative. Like so many of us, they've been staying in touch through teleconferencing, and despite the unprecedented situation, Wilson feels they're "extremely well prepared."

[RELATED: Wilson seems likely to bring Boughner back as Sharks coach]

Nonetheless, he's feeling the pressure to hit it out of the park.

"It's not the perfect-case scenario," Wilson explained. "It isn't. But it is the same for everybody. Our guys are on top of it. They have meetings every day. They're exploring, gathering as much game tape and as much knowledge. I know the league and the combine will provide us with every piece of information they can, but it's just going to be different.

And it's a very important year for us with three picks in the top 60 in a draft that we think has got a lot of things we're looking for -- especially in the top 60 picks. We've got to get it right. It means more work and more focus without as much information as we usually have. So be it."

Yes, the coronavirus pandemic will greatly impact the Sharks' financial bottom line. But the bottom line for Wilson is that his directive remains unchanged.

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

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USATSI

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.