Sharks offseason questions: Will Antti Suomela be back next year?


Sharks offseason questions: Will Antti Suomela be back next year?

SAN JOSE - When the Sharks' 2018-19 season first got underway, it looked like Antti Suomela could be the answer the team needed in adding depth to their centers. But after tallying just eight points (three goals, five assists) through 27 games, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL in December for the remainder of the season.

Fast forward to the present, and the 25-year-old is one of many restricted free agents the Sharks have to make decisions about this offseason. The question now is whether San Jose liked enough of what they saw from him in his first season to keep him on the roster. While his fate has yet to be written, it's fair to wonder if Suomela will be playing somewhere else next season.

Suomela was a good catch for the Sharks in the last offseason, coming off three campaigns in the Finnish Elite League that showed upward growth. He had just led his team,  JyP HT Jyvaskyla, with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) and a staggering plus-28 in 59 games. But after looking impressive during Sharks' training camp last September and starting the season centering Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane, the Espoo, Finland native had trouble generating offense or making a positive impact on the game.

When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer back in January, Suomela was one name that came up in the discussion. Suomela only had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 17 games at the AHL level. Sommer was confident that once Suomela "figured out" what he had to do at the NHL level, he would be unstoppable.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer said. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

Suomela ended his 2019 tenure with the Barracuda, scoring 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 47 games. He rejoined the Sharks roster once the Barracuda's season was over, but never penciled back into the big league lineup as San Jose went on a 20-game playoff run that ended with a Game 6 loss in the Western Conference final to the St. Louis Blues.

Even when the Sharks' roster sustained numerous injuries down the stretch, Dylan Gambrell was the center of choice to pencil into San Jose's playoff lineup.

[RELATED: What does future hold for Dylan Gambrell?]

Needless to say, it goes to wonder if we've already seen the end of Suomela's stint in a teal sweater. San Jose has 14 players who will become RFAs this summer on top of having some very tough decisions to make with its stacked UFA class. And there has been no word yet on how many of those discussions are unfolding.

In short, it's really anyone's guess at this point who will still be in San Jose when the offseason is over. For this center, though, it's looking very possible he could be playing somewhere else next season.

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Sharks legend Patrick Marleau might have had his last decent chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL restart. Hopefully he gets another opportunity, because it ain't happening this year.

The fifth-seeded Penguins were stunned and upset by the 12-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round after the Habs advanced to the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory on Friday. Pittsburgh lost Game 1 and was never able to recover, thanks in large part to Montreal goalie Carey Price.

The Penguins scored just eight goals in the series, none of which were deposited by Marleau. In fact, the long-time Shark didn't record a single point across the four games. The Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for what is now confirmed to be a 2021 third-round draft pick, as San Jose wanted to give him an opportunity to check that last box on his career résumé.

Marleau now will become an unrestricted free agent. It has been widely presumed that if he indeed returns for a 23rd NHL season, it might come in a third go-around with the Sharks. San Jose finished dead last in the Western Conference this season, but the Sharks' record was largely impacted by injuries and they certainly could return to the playoffs next year.

Really, it would only be fitting if Marleau ended his career in teal.

As for the Sharks, the qualifying round has gone nearly as well as they could have hoped for. Of the four Pacific Division teams that were involved, only the Edmonton Oilers failed to advance.

Due to the wacky 2020 NHL draft lottery, each team eliminated in the qualifying round has a 12.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever team lands it is widely expected to use it on consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

So, there's an 87.5 percent chance -- barring trades -- that Lafreniere won't immediately end up in the Sharks' division.

Given the season they had, they'll take any win they can get.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

View this post on Instagram

Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for his highest rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) of any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.