- Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.
Well, there’s no question who got the best player in the Timo Meier trade between Sharks and New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
An NHL scout texted San Jose Hockey Now: “The Sharks just traded a 35-goal power forward for a collection that doesn’t include anyone projected to score 10-plus goals a year in the NHL.”
I don’t think the Sharks’ portion of the Meier deal is that bad – but it’s not that good either.
Here’s the full baker’s dozen trade:
Sharks GM Mike Grier spoke for 25 minutes to the media – here are his thoughts and my takeaways from his availability, along with my trade analysis.
Sharks are in a rebuild
Grier: “I think there's some realities at play here with the salary cap and the salary structure of our group. I think you guys can kind of see how great a year [Timo] was having, how great a year Erik [Karlsson's] having, and where we still are results-wise in the standings. So, to pay him the money he's looking for and wanted, it just didn't seem to line up with where we are headed as a franchise and where we're at. We don't want to just keep spinning our wheels here, we're going to try and move this thing forward.”
While Grier pointedly said that the Sharks are not in a “full-on rebuild” later in his availability, I consider that semantics.
As long as Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl’s contracts are on the books, you can argue that it’s not a “full-on rebuild” – but how else can you look at trading a 26-year-old star winger for almost entirely all futures, save for 28-year-old Andreas Johnsson, who’s a Devils’ cap dump?
It's a rebuild move, just like a different Sharks regime re-signing Hertl to the maximum contract last year was the opposite of that.
By the way, I think Grier is right, insofar when he says the Sharks need to stop “spinning our wheels” – as much as I love Hertl the player and person, I advocated trading him last year too.
The bigger question is: How does the organization go from re-signing pending 28-year-old UFA Hertl and trading 26-year-old pending RFA Meier? It’s confusing, but does speak to an organizational philosophical shift, under Grier, that needed to happen.
I wonder how Grier sold owner Hasso Plattner, who has been said to be against a rebuild for years, on trading Meier?
The Sharks are in a rebuild, whether they’ll say so or not.
As for the actual trade...
Grier on Shakir Mukhamadullin
“You don't find too many 6-foot-4 [defensemen] who are mobile but can also add some offense," Grier said. "I think he's the leading defenseman on his team in scoring. We just think there's tons and tons of upside in this kid. He's just starting to figure out what he is as a player. I think there's so much more to come and I don't think you can find that package of what he has [easily]. I think he's someone we can envision being in our top-four for a long, long time.”
Grier on Fabian Zetterlund
“He's trending in the right direction from the eye test, the analytics test, and the stuff that we do," Grier said. "He's just trending in the right direction. I think for him, sometimes it takes a while to figure out how you need to play and what you need to do to stay in the NHL. I think he's done that…I think what Fabian's learned is that you've got to play in the hard areas. I think he does that, and I think he's improved his game defensively and become more of a 200-foot player. It's not just about offense from him. I think he's willing to do the little things now, and he plays on the inside, which was really important to us. At the same time, he's somebody who can play on the power play and make plays offensively and can really shoot the puck…I think last year, he scored 24 goals in 50-something games in the AHL, so we feel like there's some upside to this player.”
Mukhamadullin and Zetterlund, along with New Jersey’s lightly-protected 2023 first-round pick and a conditional 2024 first-round pick are the centerpieces of the trade.
Defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk is a decent defensive prospect who probably tops out as a solid bottom-pairing NHL defenseman. Johnsson is a cap dump.
As for what the Sharks gave up, defenseman Santeri Hatakka is a sleeper prospect who’s been hurt all year, with a chance to return this season. Not knowing the severity of his upper-body injury, it’s hard to say what the Sharks gave up here, but he and Okhotiuk might be close, though it’s fair to give the edge to the healthier player.
Sharks prospects Zachary Emond and Timur Ibragimov, both on expiring ELCs, were probably not long for the Sharks organization anyway.
Mukhamadullin is an excellent prospect – he’s a solid Grade-B prospect, per NHL sources. “B” is not a dismissive grade either, there might be 30-40 drafted Grade-A prospects in the world, and he’s just on the outside of it. He’s expected to come to the US as soon as his KHL campaign is done, and with a good showing, he could vault himself into being a Grade-A prospect. The tools are there.
Zetterlund will probably score more than 10 goals one day. That was a bit of a harsh assessment by the NHL scout above. But indeed, per an NHL scout, he’s not much of a finisher, even with his shot, so he might top out as a playoff-caliber third-line winger, a player you should be able to win with. That’s a good player, I was given a C-plus grade for him, in terms of his value, by the same scout.
The 2023 first-round draft pick likely will fall after No. 16, with the Devils well on their way to the playoffs. The 2024 first-rounder is a bit complicated, it relies on the 2022-23 Devils making the Conference Finals (and Meier playing 50 percent of the playoff games) or the 2023-24 Devils making the Conference Finals (doesn’t matter how many playoff games that Meier plays in that run).
So we’re talking, at the very best for the Sharks, a mid-to-late first-rounder (assuming this year’s Devils get taken out in the first round of the playoffs) and a late first-rounder (if the 2023-24 Devils go on a run). Or two late first-rounders, if New Jersey makes back-to-back deep runs.
If that doesn’t happen, the conditional 2024 first-rounder becomes a second-round draft pick.
In a 2020 re-Draft, I think Mukhamadullin still goes in the mid-to-late first round, so we’re talking a very solid young forward in Zetterlund and most likely two, maybe three mid-to-late first-rounders, for Meier.
It’s a quantity-over-quality package, that lacks a sparkling centerpiece. I don’t hate the quantity, I really don’t. Zetterlund and Mukhamadullin promise to be hard-to-play-against players in important roles.
Let’s be honest, how many true top-four defensemen have the Sharks had in the last four years? They’ve had Brent Burns and Karlsson, and a lot of guys dressed up for bigger minutes than they would’ve received on a playoff team.
You could say the same about the parade of third-liners that the Sharks have trotted out since 2018-19 – on a playoff team, this parade wouldn’t be playing that much.
But of course, star for star, this isn’t enough for an elite winger like Meier.
The only thing that I can think, there just wasn’t the interest in Meier, not enough to shake a Grade-A asset like the Devils’ Dawson Mercer or Simon Nemec, the St. Louis Blues’ Jimmy Snuggerud or their own 2023 first-round draft pick, or the Carolina Hurricanes’ Alexander Nikishin from the tree.
And no, New Jersey’s Alexander Holtz isn’t considered a Grade-A prospect anymore. “Slow boots,” referring to Holtz’s skating, was what one NHL source said about the winger. Productive in the AHL doesn’t necessarily mean the same in the NHL, even if you were once a 2020 No. 7 overall pick.
Of course, everybody loves Meier the player, that isn’t the question, but I believe teams weren’t sure of the fit next year ($10 million qualifying offer) or over an eight-year contract ($9 million-plus AAV?). Look at the gymnastics it took to fit Meier’s relatively-paltry $6 million this season into New Jersey’s cap – the Sharks had to take on Johnsson and his $3.4 million salary.
“Not much money in the market,” an NHL executive told me last month, when he suggested that Meier would net a Bo Horvat-like return. The exec didn’t end up being that far off the mark.
Why didn’t Sharks wait to trade Meier?
“With doing it now, the Devils will have him for the rest of this season and this playoff run, and next season and a playoff run at the very least, if they're not signing him to an extension," Grier said. "I think that's very valuable and that adds to the return, where if we did it this summer there's the possibility of it being just one playoff run, so the return’s going to be less. I think it was best for us, and it was probably best for Timo as well. It was on his mind to start the season, then I think he just played hockey and did what he always did. Then I think the last couple weeks, I think it was starting to weigh on his mind of 'What's going to happen, where am I going to play' type thing. Talking to him today, I think there's some relief that it's all behind him.”
I advocated waiting to trade Meier until you could get that Grade-A asset, be it during the 2023 NHL Draft or next Trade Deadline.
But Grier is right, it’s a big risk. Offers probably would get worse with one less playoff run from Meier. There’s also no telling how Meier would continue to handle constant trade speculation.
On the other hand, there’s more money available in the summer, from teams trying to compete next year, so maybe a desperate team would’ve given you what you wanted.
I also wonder why Grier didn’t wait a week until the March 3 Trade Deadline. Maybe the Blues, armed with three 2023 first-round draft picks, re-enter the fray? Maybe the Devils make the conditional 2024 first-rounder into a guaranteed, if likely heavily-protected 2025 first-rounder?
RELATED: Meier trade finalizes inevitable split between Sharks, star winger
I do believe Grier took what he thought was the best package right now for Meier – but it’s tough to give up an elite player like Meier for nothing that projects to be elite.
However, I don’t think that trade was out there for Meier, at least right now, I think that was the reality of the market.