Sharks

NHL expansion draft: Projecting who Sharks will protect from Seattle

NHL expansion draft: Projecting who Sharks will protect from Seattle

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 conclude with a projection of the Sharks' protected list. 

Two summers from now, the Sharks will have to submit their protection list for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

While that may seem like quite a distance in the future, teams are already preparing for the arrival of the currently unnamed Seattle franchise, which will join the Pacific Division ahead of the 2021-22 season. Seattle's roster will be comprised of players from the other teams in the league (except Vegas) who were left unprotected by their respective clubs.

We've covered the rules that will govern the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, and identified the goalies, defensemen and forwards San Jose is likely to both protect and expose. San Jose has two options at its disposal. Either a) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or b) protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie.

Based on what we know now, here's an educated guess at who the Sharks will protect in each of those scenarios.

Option A: 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie)

Forwards
Logan Couture
Timo Meier
Tomas Hertl
Evander Kane
Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorensen
Alex True

Couture, Meier and Hertl are all locks to be protected. There's no chance Sharks general manager Doug Wilson lets any of them get away.

Kane is slightly more questionable, but hard to envision him not being protected in this scenario. He'll be entering his age-29 season at the time and carries a $7 million cap hit, but there's a reason Wilson both traded for the dynamic winger and signed him to a long-term contract.

Labanc just re-signed a one-year contract with San Jose, but he appears to be a critical piece of their foundation moving forward. If the Sharks re-sign him to a long-term contract next offseason, you can be sure it's with the intention of keeping him in San Jose for more than a year.

Sorensen and True are the toughest calls here, as it likely means exposing other young forwards like Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela. However, True's development -- he led the AHL Barracuda with 55 points in 68 games last season -- makes that easier to swallow. Sorensen is due to hit unrestricted free agency during the 2021 offseason, but the bet here is that San Jose re-signs the speedy winger (who has been a favorite of Peter DeBoer's) and protects him as well.

Defensemen
Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Brent Burns

Karlsson and Vlasic are certainties. Both have no-movement clauses and are thus automatically protected unless they waive those clauses, which they won't.

Burns, on the other hand, has no such clause, and there is certainly a scenario in which San Jose elects to expose him. For instance, if Burns declines rapidly over the next two seasons, and is entering his age-36 season with still three additional seasons left of an $8 million cap hit, the expansion draft would afford the Sharks the opportunity to get out of the remainder of that contract. Of course, there's no guarantee that he would be picked up by Seattle in that situation.

However, based on Burns' performance last season, a rapid drop-off doesn't seem likely. And if he is able to maintain anything close to his Norris Trophy-level production, there simply isn't another defensemen in the organization worth protecting over Burns at this time.

Goalie
Martin Jones

One could make the case the Sharks should expose Jones, but looking at the current organizational depth chart, San Jose might not be able to risk that. Of course, if 21-year-old Josef Korenar (2.54 GAA, .911 SV% in 34 games with the Barracuda last season) makes the leap between now and the expansion draft, things could get very interesting.

Option B: 9 players (eight skaters, one goalie)

Skaters
Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Logan Couture
Timo Meier
Tomas Hertl
Evander Kane
Kevin Labanc
Alex True

The tough decisions here revolve around Kane and Burns. If the Sharks choose to go with Option B, it's difficult to envision them using three of their eight skater protections on defensemen. With Karlsson and Vlasic having no-movement clauses, Burns is the odd man out.

It could certainly come down to a choice between Kane and Burns, given their sizeable cap hits. If one of San Jose's young forward prospects, such as Alex Chmelevski or Ivan Chekhovich, emerges between now and then, it might allow the Sharks to expose Kane and protect Burns (or anyone else) instead. 

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

This is a projection for True, but if he continues along his current trajectory, the 22-year old will be worth protecting in either scenario.

Goalie:
Martin Jones

See Option A. Unless another goalie emerges, the Sharks probably won't be able to afford to let Jones get away. However, San Jose likes its organizational depth at that position, and it will be worth keeping an eye on who Jones' backup is over the next two seasons.

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

Verdict

As things currently stand, it sure seems like San Jose's evaluation of Burns heading into the 2021 offseason will have a determining effect on which option the Sharks choose to go with. If they feel like he can still play at a high level two years from now, then Option A would seem to be the way to go. But if Burns falls off, or if San Jose needs to find a way to get out of some major salary, he could be on the chopping block.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE - The Sharks' first standoff of the season against the Sabres was a fast-paced and tight-checking fete that saved most of its drama for the last 20 minutes of play.

But even with a couple of third-period goals to keep things interesting, Team Teal couldn't quite pull this one off against the visiting Buffalo squad and dropped the final game of their homestand 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game:

Going to the net

The Sharks might have been better on the defensive side of their game, particularly in their own end. But they struggled throughout Saturday's contest with getting in front of Buffalo's net and generating good shots. In fact, San Jose only tallied one shot on goal through nearly 13 minutes in the second period.

You do have to give San Jose's offense credit for turning it up in the latter part of the game, though. After Casey Mittelstadt's bizarre goal gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead, the Sharks turned things up and notch. They not only got more o-zone time but had a much better net-front presence. It's no wonder they were able to knot the score back up twice in the third period -- even if they weren't able to score the tie-breaking goal and get the win.

Going in for the kill

One of the biggest tests for the Sharks in Saturday's game was to stay out of the penalty box, given they were going up against one of the best power plays in the league. So, naturally, it was a bit of a nail-biter when San Jose got into a little penalty trouble in the second period.

San Jose did succeed in silencing Buffalo's power play, even if it wasn't very pretty. While Martin Jones wasn't quite as sharp on Saturday as he has been as of late, the team in front of him did a good job of halting the Sabres on the man advantage.

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The kid was all right

Noah Gregor didn't score a goal on Saturday night -- even though his new teammates tried to set him up for one. The 21-year-old forward did, however, have a good showing in his NHL debut, displaying a ton of speed as if he was already completely accustomed to the pace of a big-league game.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday morning that he would prefer it if one of San Jose's young players would seize the opportunity to be a regular on the team's fourth line with Dylan Gambrell and Melker Karlsson. Gregor only has one game under his belt, but he is already making a good case to stick around for a while.