Sharks

Sharks sign Alexei Melnichuk, Fredrik Handemark to address weaknesses

Sharks sign Alexei Melnichuk, Fredrik Handemark to address weaknesses

The NHL is in a holding pattern while the league looks into possibilities of restarting the currently-paused season in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but that hasn't stopped the Sharks from being active. On Monday, San Jose added to its organizational depth by signing two European prospects to entry-level contracts.

After going into the weekend as "front-runners" to sign Russian goaltender Alexei Melnichuk, the Sharks sealed the deal and made the signing official on Monday. Melnichuck, 21, was ranked eighth on NHL Central Scouting's list of 2018 international goaltenders.

"Alexei was being pursued by a number of teams and we're pleased that he decided to join the Sharks," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a team statement. "He has a unique blend of athleticism and technical play and has impressed at each level he has advanced. This past season he has proven that he can more than hold his own amongst players much older than he and we are excited for him to work with Evgeni Nabokov and our development staff."

In 16 games during the 2019-20 season with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's top league, the KHL, Melnichuk went 8-5-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and four shutouts. He won several honors, including KHL Goaltender of the Month (Sept.), two-time Goaltender of the Week (Sept. 23/30) and two-time Rookie of the Week (Sept. 30/Dec. 30).

"I think that this gives [the Sharks] a glimmer of hope," NHL.com's Pete Jensen said of the Melnichuk signing on Monday's episode of the "NHL Fantasy on Ice" podcast, "and a piece to solidify their biggest position of weakness, which is huge. It sounded like many teams were in the running for this guy, Melnichuk, and the fact that they could get him speaks that maybe the window might still be a little, couple of inches open."

Also on Monday, the Sharks announced the signing of 26-year-old center Fredrik Handemark. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound native of Sweden brings plenty of European experience with him to San Jose, along with a penchant for winning faceoffs.

"Fredrik is a well-rounded player who can play in all situations and ranks as one of the top faceoff centers in Europe dating back to his time in juniors," Wilson said of Handemark in a team statement. "He is a powerful skater with high character and leadership qualities having been the captain for the Malmo Redhawks the past three seasons and has played well the last few years at the National level. We are happy to have him join our organization."

Across 52 games with the Redhawks in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season, Handemark recorded 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists), posted a plus-nine rating, led the SHL in face-off percentage (.615) and in total faceoffs taken (1,029), and finished tied for seventh in game-winning goals. In his time with Malmo dating back to the 2015-16 season, Handemark never finished a season below a 50-percent win-rate in the faceoff circle. In 329 career SHL games, he tallied 136 points (47 goals, 89 assists) with a 57.3 faceoff win percentage (2,770-for-4,834).

[RELATED: Thornton shaves iconic beard with Sharks' season paused]

Goaltending has been the Sharks' Achilles heel over the last two seasons, and San Jose was tied for 25th in the NHL in faceoff win percentage when the season was indefinitely paused. Clearly, Wilson is hoping Melnichuk and Handemark can eventually help bring about improvement in those areas.

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.