By not panicking after missing out on Tavares, Sharks still in position to add 'a difference maker'

By not panicking after missing out on Tavares, Sharks still in position to add 'a difference maker'

UPDATE (7/2/2018, 5:05 PM) The Sharks re-signed Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl on Monday, and this article has been updated to reflect that.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has acquired  “difference makers” by most means imaginable. 

He traded for Brent Burns and Martin Jones around the draft, as well as Joe Thornton and Evander Kane in-season. Wilson even traded up in the draft to select recently re-signed Logan Couture. Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier were first-round picks, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic (second round) and Joe Pavelski (seventh) were not.

The Sharks have signed complementary pieces in free agency, like Paul Martin and Mikkel Boedker in back-to-back summers. Yet, the splashy free-agent signing has eluded Wilson.

That continued on Sunday, when prized free agent John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 27-year-old would have fit like a glove in San Jose’s lineup, providing the team another top-tier scoring threat and placing them firmly among the league’s elite. 

As was reportedly the case when Steven Stamkos returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning two summers ago, Wilson told reporters in a conference call Sunday that the miss wasn't for a lack of trying.

“We were in it right up until [Saturday and Sunday,]” Wilson said. “That I know for a fact, and I trust both [Tavares and agent Pat Brisson]. How it was handled...was really good. We were really comfortable throughout the process, and the respect I had for [Tavares] going into this has only gone up.”

Left to Plan B, the Sharks opted to sit tight. Older centers Paul Stastny (33) and Tyler Bozak (32) signed as Wilson kept quiet, outside of announcing Couture’s eight-year extension.  

That's not a bad outcome, all things considered.

He surely would have preferred the alternative with Tavares headed to San Jose,, but Wilson played things correctly by standing pat after Tavares signed. He went all-in on one of the best players to hit the open market in recent memory, and didn't panic to spend that money after missing out.

“As far as exploring other players, we looked at it,” Wilson said. “[Tavares] was the one we wanted to swing at. We feel that we have a very good hockey team...but I’ve always explored opportunities to add players of this ilk and that’s what we did.

“Do we feel like we lost out on anything? No, not really.”

With around $8 million in salary cap space after locking up Thornton and Hertl on Monday, the Sharks are in position to take another swing. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, and wingers Max Pacioretty, Artemi Panarin, and Jeff Skinner are some of the players who are reportedly on the trade block. Centers Matt Duchene and Tyler Seguin can become unrestricted free agents a year from now. 

A trade carries costs that free-agent signings do not, namely draft picks and prospects. But even without a first-round pick next season, San Jose has intriguing pieces it can offer in a trade. Plus, there’s space to take on a bad contract and drive down the asking price. 

In the meantime, the Sharks will take care of business internally. Wilson said the team is still negotiating with Dylan DeMelo after not issuing a qualifying offer. Chris Tierney remains a restricted free agent.

But that doesn’t mean Wilson will stop trying to acquire another “difference maker,” he said. 

“If it’s now, if it’s next week, if it’s early in the season or any time prior to the trade deadline, we have the cap space and the assets to be able to do that.”

Sharks' Tomas Hertl, wife Aneta expecting first child due in November

Sharks' Tomas Hertl, wife Aneta expecting first child due in November

I think we’re all due for some good news. So is Sharks’ All-Star center Tomas Hertl and his wife Aneta.

Aneta announced on her Instagram account the two are expecting a baby in November.

The first photo is the two of them posing together with the sonogram picture. The second is of a baby onesie with “Born in 2020” embroidered on it.

This is fresh off the couple's one-year wedding anniversary which, rumor has it, the big day was quite a fun time.

Back in May, Hertl spoke to the media about his rehab after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee where he vowed he would be better than he was before. But he’ll have to wait.

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The Sharks will not be participating in the NHL’s a modified 24-team return-to-play format.

That’s OK though, he has something even better to look forward to … a baby Shark. 

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

We don't know when the next NHL season will begin or end, but once it does, a new team officially will join the fold.

The still-unnamed Seattle expansion franchise will become the league's 32nd team, and in the process, the Sharks will lose a player from their roster as part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Not everyone in San Jose will be up for grabs. The Sharks, along with the other 30 current NHL teams, will be permitted to protect a group of their players from the expansion draft according to one of two options. Either a) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or b) protect eight skaters and one goalie.

So, where does that leave the Sharks? 

By narrowing down who San Jose is likely to protect, we can zero in on which players are likely to be exposed.

Automatically protected: Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (no-movement clauses)
Certain to be protected: Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier
Very likely to be protected: Evander Kane

That's six pretty-darn-sure things already, plus an unnamed goalie. So, under this assumption, the Sharks would only be able to protect three more forwards and one additional defenseman under Option A, or just two more skaters under Option B.

Though nearly all of San Jose's top prospects will be automatically exempt due to lack of service time, Jonathan Dahlen -- generally regarded as the Sharks' second-best prospect -- will be eligible for inclusion due to his playing AHL games in 2017-18. So, chances are, they'll protect him as well.

Regardless of which option San Jose goes with, that doesn't leave them many more choices. As such, here are some of the more notable names that the Sharks might be forced to make available to Seattle in the expansion draft:

Brent Burns

What the Sharks decide to do with Burns likely will depend on the trajectory of the team heading into the 2021 offseason. If San Jose successfully turns things around in short order, then keeping the 36-year-old Burns -- who has another four years left on his contract at $8 million per season -- will make a lot more sense than if an extended rebuild appears to be on the horizon.

The Sharks have several large salaries on their books, and making Burns available would be one possible way to alleviate some of that building pressure. Of course, if Burns has a Norris-type season next year, San Jose likely will do everything it can to keep him. More than anything, Burns' performance next season likely will have the most determining effect on who the Sharks make available.

[RELATED: Why Sharks shouldn't be counted out if Eichel seeks trade]

Martin Jones

Assuming he's still on the roster and doesn't have a major bounce-back season, Jones would seem to be one of the more likely inclusions on San Jose's unprotected list. He carries a hefty price tag and hasn't lived up to it for the last couple of years.

Of course, the Sharks don't really have anything in the way of an established goalie behind him -- Aaron Dell is an unrestricted free agent -- so if one doesn't emerge, they might be forced to protect him. If San Jose makes Jones available, that likely means one of the Sharks' goaltending prospects made a significant leap or a free agent outperformed him in the year ahead.

Kevin Labanc

He brings plenty of talent to the table and has been useful on the power play. But Labanc's problem is consistency. On some nights, he's one of the best players on the ice. Others, you hardly notice him. He bet on himself last offseason, but it didn't appear to pay off.

A restricted free agent, San Jose should be able to re-sign him at an affordable price. He still is only 24 years old, though. Should Labanc take a couple steps forward next season, it likely will come at a discount, which the Sharks would likely want to protect. If he's ultimately made available, he could offer the combination of youth and talent that would pique Seattle's interest.

Stefan Noesen

Acquired early in the season, Noesen, 27, made a strong impression during his first year in San Jose. He provided the occasional offense, scoring six goals in 34 games, as well as some sorely-needed toughness. He also immediately became a leader in the locker room.

Noesen currently is an unrestricted free agent, but it would be surprising if he didn't start next season in a Sharks sweater, and he shouldn't be too costly either. If he can build off this past season's performance, one would imagine San Jose would prefer to keep him around. Who else the Sharks protect likely will determine if he can be protected or not.

Dylan Gambrell/Antti Suomela/Alex True

Gambrell has accomplished the most of the three, but he's running short on time. A restricted free agent at the end of next season, he'll be eligible for inclusion in the expansion draft if he plays in at least 20 games. Unless he breaks out, Gambrell seems likely to be one of the names the Sharks leave unprotected.

You could say the same thing about Suomela -- assuming the restricted free agent is re-signed -- who has notched four goals and 11 assists over 47 NHL games across the last two seasons. He's still only 26, but has yet to live up to his potential. True, on the other hand, is younger (22 years old) and was fairly noticeable over the course of his NHL debut this season. He should have a good opportunity to begin the season with San Jose, and would seem to be the most likely of the three to carve out a long-term role with the big club.