What options do Sharks have if they miss out on John Tavares?

What options do Sharks have if they miss out on John Tavares?

The start of free agency is days away, and the Sharks are awaiting the decision of prized free agent-to-be John Tavares. On Friday, The New York Islanders center will reportedly decide whether or not to return to the only franchise he’s ever known.

Should he decide to re-sign with the Islanders, or sign with one of the other four teams he met with at CAA headquarters during the interview period, San Jose will need to turn to other options in order to upgrade its top-six forwards. With nearly $19 million in salary cap space, the Sharks would have plenty of flexibility for their back-up plan(s). Let’s examine the other options the team would have up front this summer.

Free agency

Tavares isn’t the only player available, but he’s easily the best. He scored more points than any pending unrestricted free agent in 2017-18, and James van Riemsdyk is the only other player that scored more than 30 goals last year. 

If San Jose opts to try to sign a center, Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak are the next best options. The 32-year-old Stastny has scored 40 or more points in each of the last four seasons, while Bozak likely would have accomplished the same had he not missed 25 games in 2015-16. Neither player is Tavares, but they also won’t command as much money or term. With the amount of long-term contracts on the Sharks’ books, that may be a blessing in disguise.

There are deeper options on the wing. Van Riemsdyk and James Neal are two of the 25 most prolific goal-scorers since 2013, while Michael Grabner, David Perron, and Thomas Vanek are intriguing to varying degrees. Rick Nash may not play next season, but can’t be ruled out given his history with Joe Thornton. 

When it comes to restricted free agency, the Sharks may not have the assets to sign a player to an offer sheet capable of bringing them to San Jose. The Sharks can only sign an offer sheet worth up to $4,059,322, which likely wouldn’t be enough to sign a difference maker.

The trade market

The trade market appears far more plentiful. Rumors flew during draft weekend that San Jose was close to acquiring Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, and the teams reportedly discussed a deal before the draft, according to The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz.

Pacioretty is far from the only name on the block. Artemi Panarin is not yet willing to sign an extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Carolina Hurricanes are reportedly shopping Jeff Skinner actively, and NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Boruk noted there were rumors of a potential Wayne Simmonds swap.

Of course, there’s also two-time Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson, whom the Sharks reportedly inquired about at the trade deadline. San Jose has the space to acquire a player, and even a bad contract alongside them in order to drive down the cost in terms of trade assets. 

Most of general manager Doug Wilson’s biggest splashes with the Sharks have come via the trade market, and the amount of players reportedly available may convince him to dip back into those waters.

Standing pat...for now

San Jose doesn’t have to necessarily do anything this summer. The Sharks were a 100-point team last season, and a healthy Joe Thornton in the lineup at the same time as Evander Kane should give them a boost. 

Re-signing restricted free agents Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney while otherwise maintaining salary cap space would give San Jose the flexibility to acquire a player (or two) in season, and perhaps at a lower cost in terms of trade assets than over the summer. Preserving it beyond the season would allow the Sharks to better complement an aging core with capable depth. 

Plus, free agency can still be an option in 2019. San Jose could, conceivably, have additional chances at acquiring Pacioretty, Panarin, and Skinner, depending who does and does not sign contract extensions. 

The Sharks would surely regret missing out on Tavares, who’s the best free agent available in recent memory. But next summer’s free-agent class is shaping up to be much deeper than this year’s, and landing one of the biggest fish then wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

NHL rumors: Sharks have made Erik Karlsson massive contract offer


NHL rumors: Sharks have made Erik Karlsson massive contract offer

The Sharks fell short in their Stanley Cup bid this season, and they now have some serious business to take care of this offseason.

It all starts with the team's pursuit in keeping star defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

The Sharks have been working toward a contract extension for Karlsson, and they reportedly now have made an offer. SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that "it is believed they’ve [the Sharks] made him an offer that will challenge, if not surpass, Drew Doughty’s extension from last summer."

The L.A. Kings made Doughty the NHL's highest-paid defenseman last summer when they signed him to an eight-year, $88 million contract.

Not only did Friedman report the Sharks already have offered Karlsson, but he believes the team has a serious chance at bringing him back to San Jose for the long term.

"Conversations have intensified, and I think they’ve got a shot," Friedman wrote.

Karlsson had dinner with Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Wednesday night in Santa Clara, The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported. A Facebook user in a Sharks fan group posted a picture with Karlsson and Wilson from the restaurant, and it later surfaced on the Sharks' fan-run subreddit.

The Sharks acquired Karlsson in a blockbuster trade with the Senators on the eve of training camp. He played 53 games in his first year as a Shark and scored 45 points -- three goals and 42 assists.

Karlsson battled injuries all season long, and he clearly was hobbled in the playoffs before missing the Sharks' season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference final to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. He aggravated his injured groin in Game 4, and played just 10:32 in Game 5.

[RELATED: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future for Sharks]

While Karlsson’s first go in San Jose didn't go as planned, the Sharks clearly want him to stay in the Bay.

Sharks organizational review: Goalie situation depends on Martin Jones


Sharks organizational review: Goalie situation depends on Martin Jones

SAN JOSE -- There may not have been a Sharks' player who caught more flak from fans this past season than Martin Jones, as the starting goalie battled with consistency this season. Criticism of San Jose's goaltending continued as Jones' backup, Aaron Dell, didn't fare much better overall throughout the regular season. 

Then came the Sharks' 20-game playoff run, where Jones did a complete 180-degree turn after the Sharks went into a 3-1 hole against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. As if a switch had been flipped, Jones went from being a liability to being a key to getting Team Teal to the Western Conference Final. 

The question now is which version of Martin Jones will be in net for the Sharks next season -- or how San Jose's goaltending contingent, in general, is going to look and match up to the competition in the future.

Sure, wins are what counts at the end of the day and Jones was tied for third in the league with 36 regular season victories in this last campaign. But while his record improved to 36-19-5 over the previous season's 30-22-6, his save percentage dipped from .915 to .896. He also developed a habit of giving up the first goal of the game within the first few minutes of the first period, putting the rest of the team on their heels early into games.  

Nevertheless, it's pretty unlikely Jones is going anywhere. He's entering the second season of a six-year contract extension he signed in 2017, and even before his turnaround performance in the playoffs the team around him never stopped sticking up for him. When Jones struggled, his teammates continued to put their unwavering faith in him and insisted their defensive effort in front of him was to blame. For that faith to continue, however, Jones is going to have to bring some of his strong play from the playoffs into next season.

As for Jones' backup, Dell's future seems a bit more open. Even with two shutouts on the season, No. 30's numbers also took a dip during the 2018-19 campaign and he ended the regular season with a 3.17 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. With just one year left on his current contract, San Jose could potentially use Dell as a trade piece.

[RELATED: What Sharks can learn from Stanley Cup champs]

Neither of San Jose's Barracuda goalies, Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar, saw any NHL time this past season. Although there's a possibility both get a look during camp ahead of next season after both posted better than .900 save percentages. Bibeau also already has two NHL games under his belt from when he was part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization, going 1-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average. 

The Sharks further added to their goaltending contingent this spring when they signed Zachary Emond to an entry-level contract. Emond, 18, won't be making any appearances at the NHL level this season, although the Sharks have expressed satisfaction with how the sixth-round pick from the 2018 draft is developing. Look for Emond to be a goalie to come up the pipeline for the Sharks, especially if he has another strong season with his junior club.