NHL expansion draft: Sharks could protect, expose superstar defensemen


NHL expansion draft: Sharks could protect, expose superstar defensemen

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 continue with an examination of which defensemen the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

If one of the Sharks' position groups drives home the uncertainty of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, it's their defense. 

San Jose currently has three blue liners under contract for the 2021-22 season, which will be Seattle's first in the NHL: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Whether the Sharks opt to protect 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie) or nine (eight skaters and a goaltender), Karlsson and Vlasic likely are going to have their names on the protected lists. 

That's because both players' contracts contain no-movement clauses. Unless they opt to waive those clauses, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson will have to protect both players ahead of the expansion draft. Burns, who will be 36 at the time of the draft and is under contract until 2025, would not have to be protected. 

Could the Norris Trophy winner -- and three-time finalist -- be available for the Metropolitans Sasquatch Salmon Unnamed Seattle Franchise when the team joins the league in 2021? Much of that will depend upon Burns' performance, and just what San Jose's defense looks like in two years. 

According to the league's rules, the Sharks will have to expose a defenseman who is under contract for Seattle's first season (2021-22) and has played in either 40 games in 2020-21 or 70 total games in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Defensive prospects Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley could reach those totals if they're on the NHL roster, but both players automatically are protected since neither would have played more than two professional seasons at that point. 

Brenden Dillon, Tim Heed and Radim Simek all can hit unrestricted free agency in 2020, when the Sharks would have $62 million in salary commitments and 11 players under contract, according to Cap Friendly. That probably won't cause a salary-cap crunch that resulted in forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist departing as unrestricted free agents while San Jose worked out an eight-year deal with Erik Karlsson and a four-year deal with Timo Meier.

But Kevin Labanc's new contract and/or Ferraro, Merkley or another prospect being ready for a bigger role could make the Sharks let Dillon, Heed or Simek test the market. 

As a result, the 2020 offseason should be instructive of the Sharks' plans for the expansion draft the following summer. Retaining any of the aforementioned three players likely would give the Sharks at least one defenseman who they are able to expose other than Burns, assuming they hit the games requirement. A prospect who already has made their pro debut, such as Nick DeSimone or Jacob Middleton, emerging as an NHL option could add another eligible unprotected player, as would signing a defenseman from a large free-agent class next summer.

If Burns, who just scored a career-high 83 points and has played 82 games each of the last five seasons, continues to perform at an elite level into his mid-30s, the Sharks conceivably could protect him in an expansion draft for the second time in five years. As it stands right now, they would need to retain some of their pending free agents or have a younger internal candidate replace one of them.

If Burns begins to decline, San Jose conceivably could choose to expose him in the draft. They have parted ways with two of the four longest-tenured players in franchise history (Pavelski and Patrick Marleau) in two of the last three offseasons, and exposing Burns would clear an $8 million cap hit. 

[RELATED: Which goalie will Sharks protect in expansion draft?]

Of course, that doesn't mean he would be Seattle-bound. The NHL's 32nd team would need to take on enough salary to reach at least 60 percent of the 2020-21 salary-cap ceiling, but general manager Ron Francis might turn to Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee's playbook and take on shorter-term contracts.

Plenty can change between now and the 2021 expansion draft, and the Sharks' lack of salary commitments outside of their big three on the blue line creates plenty of possibilities. We know which defensemen the Seattle franchise won't be able to choose, but the ones it can are up in the air.

Sharks continue to suffer from lack of scoring, abundance of penalties


Sharks continue to suffer from lack of scoring, abundance of penalties

Evander Kane called it "interesting." Head coach Peter DeBoer called it "messy." No matter what word you choose, everyone can agree that the Sharks' 3-1 loss to the Predators on Tuesday got downright ugly.

San Jose had what was probably its best defensive game of the month in Nashville, being stingy and not giving the opposing Preds a lot of room to work. But with a scoreless tie after two periods, tempers began to fly, and what followed was a tsunami of penalties that ultimately determined the Sharks' fate.

The Sharks felt like they were in this one. But a plethora of penalties late in the second period and early in the third changed that. A whopping 39 penalty minutes later, San Jose had dropped the fourth and final game of its road trip. 

"We're still taking too many penalties," DeBoer told reporters after the loss. "I thought we pressed really hard in the second, didn't give them anything. I thought we deserved to be up going into the third and we didn't get rewarded for the work in the second. And they're at home, I thought they pushed hard. Pushed us back early in the third, got us on our heels a little bit. Really, when you get into a game like that, whoever scores first is probably going to win."

San Jose actually went on the penalty kill just 47 seconds into the game when Barclay Goodrow went to the box for slashing. But the real wave of penalties came late in the second period after Goodrow and Calle Jarnkrok received matching minors. Tempers were unhinged from that point on -- heck even the officials were fired up, as the microphone caught one using explicit language while reprimanding Nashville's Roman Josi. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Simek to miss two weeks for minor knee procedure]

The biggest tussle, however, took place in the final seconds of the second period when Dan Hamhuis cross-checked Kane and then Auston Watson jumped in as the third man in. Though Kane was defending himself, the officials tagged him with 19 penalty minutes, essentially taking him out of the remainder of the contest. 

"I don't understand the 19 minutes and how that was made up," Kane remarked when asked about the scuffle. "There was a lot of that all night going back and forth."

"Tough for him to sit for that long," DeBoer said in Kane's defense. "Hamhuis started the whole thing and then Watson comes in and grabs him and we end up with the short end of it. But it's a messy situation, I'm not going to second guess the call."

Regardless of how many penalties the Sharks racked up, they still needed to find a way to score more goals. They only found the back of the net once Tuesday, and only scored once in each of their previous two games. Despite doing some good work in the offensive zone, San Jose isn't going to reap the rewards without scoring goals to make up for its mistakes.

"You've got to find a way to win and we've got to find a way to score," DeBoer summarized. "I think that's the story of the trip."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in contentious 3-1 loss to Predators


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in contentious 3-1 loss to Predators


It wasn't full of offensive firepower, but what Tuesday's game between the Sharks and Predators lacked in goals, it made up for with flying fists.

Unfortunately, despite the fiery matchup and an entertaining “hot mic” moment, San Jose still couldn’t find a way to turn its fortunes around. The Sharks concluded their battle at Bridgestone Arena with a 3-1 loss, ending their road trip without a single win.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's game:

A plethora of penalties

With the game scoreless through the first two periods, the two sides became visibly agitated with one another. But rather than take out their frustrations out on the scoreboard, they took it out on each other. By the end of second stanza, the Sharks led the charge with 31 penalty minutes to Nashville’s 29.

While the Preds were the ones with multiple players simultaneously in the sin bin, it was Sharks winger Evander Kane who racked up a staggering 19 penalty minutes resulting from a tussle with Nashville's Auston Watson. Being without the power forward for almost the entire third period visibly took its toll on San Jose, which continued its dance in and out of the box into the third frame.

The PK was overworked 

San Jose's league-leading penalty kill wasn't its normal self last weekend, but it looked strong and sturdy Tuesday night in Nashville. It was a good thing, too, considering how many times the Sharks found themselves shorthanded, particularly early on.

Unfortunately, the abundance of penalties eventually wore San Jose’s PK down and Nashville was able to find the back of the net on a power play with less than 10 minutes left to play. It's been said before, but clearly it needs to be said again: The Sharks need to clean their game up and give the penalty kill a break so they don’t burn out.

[RELATED: Sharks' Simek to miss two weeks for minor knee procedure]

A better goalie matchup 

One of San Jose's biggest problems over the course of the road trip was that Martin Jones was outplayed by the netminder on the other end of the ice. That was not the case Tuesday night in Nashville, as Jones and Juuse Saros traded off making big saves up until Nick Bonino put the Predators up 1-0 in the third frame.

Jones had a particularly nice sprawling save on a four-minute penalty kill in the first period, which could have put the Sharks in a 1-0 hole pretty quickly. Perhaps the standard is too low for a team of San Jose's talent level, but after the rough weekend the Sharks had, they deserve credit for getting out of the first period with a scoreless tie. Avoiding an early deficit clearly gave San Jose a boost of energy, which persisted throughout the game. Well, at least until all of the fights started.