Sharks

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Salary cap constraints

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Salary cap constraints

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a Cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We continue with their salary cap constraints.

The Sharks' top priority this offseason was getting Erik Karlsson inked to a long-term contract.

Mission accomplished, but at a significant cost -- and I'm not just referring to the $92 million Karlsson will earn over the next eight seasons.

That isn't to say Karlsson isn't worth it. He most definitely is. During San Jose's most dominant stretches last season, he was unquestionably the Sharks' best player. Had he not suffered a debilitating groin injury that severely limited him at times during the postseason, it might have been San Jose winning its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and not the St. Louis Blues.

Karlsson is worth the contract, and certainly would have received a similar offer -- if not larger -- on the open market. When healthy, he's the best defenseman in the game.

But in order to lock up the former Norris Trophy winner to a long-term deal, the Sharks had to face a harsh reality. It simply wasn't going to be possible to sign both Karlsson and former captain Joe Pavelski to market-rate contracts. In a salary-cap league, teams are forced to make tough choices.

Karlsson is in. Pavelski is out.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson doesn't just chase the big fish; he's quite adept at landing them. Every team wants to have star players, but in order to have them, you have to pay for 'em.

The Sharks have a lot of big fish. Karlsson, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane are all making at least $7 million per season for the next six years. That's a lot of money tied up in a small portion of the roster. Add in the contracts for Timo Meier (four years, $6 million AAV), Tomas Hertl (three years, $5.25 million AAV) and Martin Jones (five years, $5.75 million AAV), and you have a pretty good idea of San Jose's core for the foreseeable future.

And that's a major threat to the Sharks' ability to win a cup anytime soon.

San Jose has 21 players signed for the upcoming season with just over $4.6 million remaining in projected cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Moving forward, though, the Sharks won't have much wiggle room.

Outside of the aforementioned core, only Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow and Dylan Gambrell are signed beyond this coming season, and all three are due to become free agents the year after that. That means that San Jose currently has just 11 players under contract for 2020-21, with only $19.5 million remaining in projected cap space to fill out the rest of the roster. Looking ahead to 2021-22, the Sharks have only eight players under contract, with $22.625 million remaining in projected cap space.

[RELATED: Why looming NHL lockout is threat to Sharks' Cup hopes]

Wilson has done a tremendous job identifying undervalued lower-salaried players that have provided depth throughout so many playoff runs. He's also done well to acquire top-end talent through the draft, despite frequently being without a first-round pick. Given San Jose's salary situation, and the fact that the Sharks don't have a first, fourth or sixth-round pick in 2020, nor a second-round pick in 2021, it's essential that Wilson continues to be successful in those two areas in particular.

If he's not, the Sharks won't have the depth to compete for a Cup in the near future, no matter how many big fish they have.

Sharks' return in Brenden Dillon trade leaves something to be desired

Sharks' return in Brenden Dillon trade leaves something to be desired

The wait is over. Brenden Dillon has been traded from the Sharks to the Washington Capitals.

After weeks of being one of the most prominent names mentioned in trade rumors, Dillon got some clarity about his playing career Tuesday when San Jose traded him to the Capitals, who currently sit in first place in the Eastern Conference. In exchange for the rugged defenseman, the Sharks receive the Colorado Avalanche's 2020 second-round draft pick and a conditional 2021 third-round draft pick.

According to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, San Jose will get the Arizona Coyotes' 2020 third-round draft pick if Dillon and the Capitals go on to win the Stanley Cup this season. In the event they don't, the Sharks instead will get Washington's 2021 third-round draft pick.

So, the Sharks get a second and third-round draft pick for their pending unrestricted free agent. It's just a matter of when that third-rounder is conveyed, and from which team.

LeBrun reported that San Jose had remained consistent with its asking price for Dillon throughout the past week, and apparently, the Capitals were the first to meet it. Two fairly high draft picks for a rental is a pretty sizeable haul for the Sharks, and that return will prove very helpful in reloading their cupboard of assets. That said, it's fair to wonder if San Jose might have been able to get more in return for one of the best defensemen available at the NHL trade deadline.

On TSN's Trade Tracker, Dillon was listed as the No. 4 player overall and No. 2 defenseman on the big board. On The Athletic's NHL Trade Big Board, he was ranked as the No. 7 player overall and the third-highest rated defenseman. On The Fourth Period's Trade Watch List, he was ranked No. 6 and No. 3, respectively. On each and every one of those sites, Dillon was rated considerably higher than Andy Greene, Dylan DeMelo and Marco Scandella, all defensemen who 1) also have been traded within the last 72 hours, 2) are pending unrestricted free agents, and 3) brought back very similar returns.

For the 37-year-old Greene, the New York Islanders traded their 2021 second-round draft pick and prospect David Quenneville to the New Jersey Devils. Dillon not only is eight years younger than Greene, but has been a considerably better performer this season. Dillon's Corsi (47.51) and Fenwick (46.84) percentages -- which calculate the percentage of total and unblocked shot attempts while that player is on the ice for that player's team -- are significantly superior to the elder Greene's (40.35 percent; 41.95 percent). Greene was the Devils' captain, however, and that likely had something to do with New Jersey getting what it did for him.

While DeMelo (26 years old) and Scandella (turns 30 years old Sunday) both are much closer to Dillon's age and measure up better in both Corsi and Fenwick percentages this season, there's no question as to which of the three is the best player. Yet, the Ottawa Senators fetched a 2020 third-round draft pick from the Winnipeg Jets for DeMelo, and the Montreal Canadiens got a 2020 second-round and 2021 conditional fourth-round pick from the St. Louis Blues for Scandella -- whom Montreal traded a 2020 fourth-round draft pick to the Buffalo Sabres to acquire last month.

While Dillon's annual cap hit ($3.27 million) is considerably more expensive than DeMelo's ($900,000), it's actually cheaper than both Scandella's ($4 million) and Greene's ($5 million). When you consider San Jose retained 50 percent of Dillon's cap hit in the deal with Washington -- meaning the Capitals are taking on only $735,000 more salary against the cap for Dillon than the Jets are for DeMelo -- it begs the question as to if the Sharks maximized value in their return.

[RELATED: Report: Execs believe Jumbo trade to Bruins or Avs fits]

Don't get me wrong. The draft picks are very much needed, and certainly more useful to San Jose's future than Dillon will be, as re-signing the defenseman on the open market remains a long shot. The Sharks need to get whatever they can for players that will be of more use to them elsewhere, and the fact that Dillon wasn't traded until Tuesday after weeks (months?) of speculation could lead one to believe that a better offer wasn't available, nor was there going to be one. Still, given what some other teams got in return for worse defensemen, it leaves something to be desired.

Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!

NHL rumors: Execs believe Joe Thornton trade to Bruins, Avalanche fits

NHL rumors: Execs believe Joe Thornton trade to Bruins, Avalanche fits

The Sharks already have begun wheeling and dealing ahead of the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline. 

San Jose traded defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a 2020 second-round draft pick (Colorado's previously acquired by Washington) and a third-round draft pick in either 2020 or 2021. And Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is expected to stay busy before the deadline. 

The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported Sunday that "the belief is Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has put up the “For Sale” sign and is trying to move as many pieces as possible before the deadline." All eyes now are on a franchise icon. 

Will the Sharks trade Joe Thornton to give him a better chance at finally winning a championship? It sounds like they might be leaning that way. 

"He has a full 'no move' clause, but the Sharks would like to give him the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup," Garrioch wrote. "If he’s going to be dealt, then league executives believe he’ll only go to a team that has a chance to win, so the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins are both viewed as good fits." 

The Bruins (37-11-12) lead the NHL in points (86) and are the top team in Eastern Conference. The Avalanche (33-18-7) are third in the Western Conference with 73 points. 

Thornton, 40, spent his first seven-and-a-half seasons with the Bruins before the Sharks acquired him from Boston in November 2005. He won both the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy that season. 

The center has scored 25 points -- two goals and 23 points -- over 59 games this season. Thornton is the active leader in points with 1,503 and currently ranks 14th in NHL history in that category. 

[RELATED: How Sharks can benefit from injuries at NHL trade deadline]

The Sharks (26-29-4) have the third-worst record in the Western Conference. It would be no surprise if they have more moves to come, but would San Jose really trade its all-time assists leader in what possibly could his final season in the NHL?

With less than a week to go before the trade deadline, there will be plenty of attention on Wilson and what he does with a legend in San Jose.

Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!