Sharks' depth advantage on full display as NHL trade deadline draws near


Sharks' depth advantage on full display as NHL trade deadline draws near

The Sharks are in a unique position.

Not just because they’re riding a six-game winning streak, having just swept their way through Western Canada, and are now sitting atop the Western Conference -- although those are all pretty unique statuses. San Jose’s position is interesting in that they aren’t being led by one skater or one line that’s on a hot streak; they’re getting contributions from all throughout their lineup, and their depth is on full display.

“Right now, we’re getting a lot of contributions,” captain Joe Pavelski told the media after San Jose’s 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. “Four strong lines who are adding to the mix. Our game’s in a good spot right now.”

Logan Couture agreed. “Seems like that’s something that’s been happening on a nightly basis here,” he summarized. “That’s a big reason why we’re winning.”

It’s also a big reason this Sharks team, although it’s comprised of the almost exact same lineup, looks more dominant than it did at the start of the season. It also puts them in an interesting position just a couple weeks ahead of the trade deadline.

At the start of the 2018-19 campaign, San Jose had visible areas that needed to be improved upon. There were questions regarding their forward depth, and whether the goaltending needed to be beefed up. Heck, the expectations of the blue line were so high before the season opened up that even that part of the Sharks’ game was getting questioned. Back in November, there were fans calling for half the team to get shipped off. 

Now, moving pieces and breaking up chemistry seems almost unnecessary. San Jose’s depth from the top forward line all the way back to the net has made it an unstoppable force since the All-Star break, as the Sharks just became the sixth team in NHL history to sweep through Western Canada. (And they did it without Erik Karlsson in the lineup, to boot.) Those calls to pick the team apart have, expectedly, become quite faint.

Now, the Sharks' depth, hot streak and resulting confidence puts them in an interesting position as the trade deadline nears. It’s unlikely Doug Wilson makes a splash like last season when the Sharks acquired Evander Kane from Buffalo. But would San Jose sit back while teams around them wheel and deal?

There has been talk since the start of the season about San Jose potentially adding a bottom-six forward, but the Sharks aren’t likely to be in the running for anyone like Wayne Simmonds or Matt Duchene. There was also a ton of chatter through the first couple months of the season that San Jose needed an upgrade between the pipes, but with Martin Jones rounding into playoff-caliber form and Aaron Dell having an impressive start on the road trip against Edmonton, seeing a change in the crease isn’t too likely either. There’s been little-to-no worry regarding the Sharks’ defensive corps, since their depth players have filled in well for injured starters. Really, they’re just waiting to get Karlsson back healthy.

[RELATED: DeBoer thinks Karlsson close to returning to Sharks' lineup]

Long story short: Don’t count on the Sharks making big headlines come deadline day, but remember Wilson will likely have his eyes peeled.

In the meantime, the Sharks return home for a three-game stint at the Tank against the Capitals, Canucks, and Bruins. No doubt the expectations for this homestand are high, given San Jose's hot streak of late, and many parties will be watching with the trade deadline right around the corner. It will be interesting to see how the conversation evolves as the Feb. 25 deadline draws near.

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.

[RELATED: Ranking Sharks top playoff moments in overtime]

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.