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NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise

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AP

NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We begin with an explanation of the expansion draft rules.

Over the last two years, the Sharks have developed a budding rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL as an expansion franchise prior to the 2017-18 season.

Two years from now, another expansion franchise -- this one in Seattle, Washington -- officially will join the league, and like Vegas, will slide right into the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes being displaced to the Central Division.

Before the currently unnamed Seattle franchise begins play in 2021-22, it has to acquire its inaugural roster by way of the expansion draft.

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will operate under the same rules for Seattle as it did for the Golden Knights back in the summer of 2017. Seattle will select one player from each of the other teams in the league (excluding Vegas) for a grand total of 30. Specifically, those 30 players must include at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Eventually, Seattle will whittle down those 30 players to a minimum of 20 under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, and that inaugural roster must have a cumulative salary that is between 60 and 100 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap's upper limit.

However, it's not as if Seattle can just handpick the best player from each roster. The other 30 teams can protect a limited number of their own players, making them ineligible for selection in the expansion draft.

Those teams have two options for protecting players: Either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie. Regardless of which option a team chooses, there are certain conditions it must abide by.

For instance, any player with a no-movement clause at the time of the expansion draft -- and who declines to waive that clause -- must be protected and will count toward their team's protected list. Additionally, all first- and second-year players, as well as all unsigned draft choices, are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft, and won't count toward their team's protected list.

There are two sides to the protected/exempt coin, though. The other 30 teams can't simply scrape the bottom of their respective barrels and expose those remnants to the expansion draft. There are conditions that those teams must meet that ensure Seattle will receive legitimate NHL players, much like the Golden Knights did before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.

Each of those 30 teams must expose at least one defensemen and at least two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or in at least 70 NHL games over the previous two seasons combined.

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

Furthermore, those teams must also expose at least one goalie who is either under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to expose the latter option to the expansion draft, it must have already given that goalie a qualifying offer prior to submitting its protected list.

Lastly, any players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games heading into 2021-22, or who have been otherwise confirmed to have a career-threatening injury, cannot be exposed to the expansion draft unless approved by the league.

Traditionally, expansion franchises have taken a long time to find their footing in the NHL, but the Golden Knights bucked that trend and took the sports world by storm. Considering the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will have the exact same setup as the one that jumpstarted Vegas in 2017, it stands to reason that Seattle could do the same.

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.