The Sharks’ offseason began in earnest on Thursday. Evander Kane dotted the ‘I’s’ and crossed the ‘T’s’ on a seven-year contract extension, reportedly worth $49 million, and San Jose can now turn its attention to the remainder of a pivotal offseason.
With the NHL’s salary cap set to rise to a range between $78 million and $82 million, Kane’s re-signing leaves the Sharks, with between $10.5 million and $14.5 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. They likely will have more.
CapFriendly lists rookie forwards Dylan Gambrell and Max Letunov on San Jose’s NHL roster, but assuming the pair starts the season with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks will have cap space ranging from about $12.3 million to $16.3 million. Waiving Tim Heed would clear $650,000 more, plus teams can exceed the salary cap by 10 percent during the summer, giving the Sharks at least an additional $7.8 million to spend as well.
The higher the cap rises, the more flexibility San Jose will have to make a splash this summer. It’s needed, as Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney will become restricted free agents on July 1, Joe Thornton is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and New York Islanders center John Tavares headlining this summer’s UFA class if he reaches free agency.
Kane’s return does not necessarily rule out the Sharks re-signing their restricted free-agent trio and bringing Tavares into the fold, but San Jose would have to clear some cap space. According to HockeyGraphs’ Matt Cane’s projection model, which was within about $100,000 of the cap hit of Kane’s contract, it would cost about $18.6 million to sign all four players assuming the salary cap rises to $80 million next season.
Re-signing the trio and bringing back Thornton, who Cane’s model projects will sign a one-year deal for about $5.4 million, is well within the Sharks’ price range, and San Jose likely wouldn’t need to move a contract. Signing both centers initialed ‘J.T.’ would necessitate some creativity, however.
If Tavares, Thornton, DeMelo, Hertl, and Tierney signed for their projected contract values, San Jose would exceed the allowed offseason overage for an $80 million salary cap by nearly $1.1 million. In order to become fully cap compliant by the start of the season, they’d have to clear about an additional $8 million on top of that.
It’s worth remembering that these are just contract projections, and Thornton also told reporters earlier this month that he’d be willing to take a paycut if it helped San Jose attract free agents. Still, Cane’s model is instructive, as it shows Sharks would likely have to clear a contract in order to sign Tavares, and possibly multiple in order to also re-sign Thornton.
Trading Paul Martin and retaining half his salary or buying him out would clear $2.425 million and $2.833 million. The latter may be likelier as San Jose was unable to find a trade partner during the season, but a buyout would also leave just over $1.4 million on the books in the 2019-20 season. Mikkel Boedker’s contract is fairly movable, as his cap hit ($4 million) over the next two seasons exceeds his actual salary ($3 million).
Buying out Martin and trading Boedker could be enough to allow the Sharks to sign Tavares and re-sign Thornton at a discount, but doing both will require some maneuvering from San Jose general manager Doug Wilson. He will also have to consider his team’s flexibility moving forward.
Kane, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are now signed for a combined $22 million headed into their 30s. The defensemen will be 40 and 39 when their respective contracts expire in 2025 and 2026. Kane will be 33, but has dealt with a variety of injuries and has never played a full, 82-game season. If Logan Couture signs a long-term extension this summer, he will be 30 when his contract begins.
Plus, Joonas Donskoi, Hertl, and Tierney all could be eligible for unrestricted free agency as soon as their next contracts, while Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier are about to enter the final season of their respective entry-level deals. Adding Tavares or another free agent to the mix on a long-term deal would leave the Sharks with a lot of money in a core that’s only getting older, but drafting well and supplementing that core with cheap, young players will remain paramount.
Kane’s extension certainly doesn’t prevent the Sharks from re-signing DeMelo, Hertl, and Tierney. This doesn’t eliminate them from the race to land Tavares, nor does it rule out Thornton’s return. Wilson will need to wheel and deal to manage all three, but Kane’s re-signing is an indication that San Jose’s offseason is just getting started.