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.

Erik Karlsson relieved to score but focused on winning with Sharks

Erik Karlsson relieved to score but focused on winning with Sharks

SAN JOSE — Scoring your first goal of the season certainly is cause for celebration. Maybe even some extra-exuberant cheering and shouting. 

After defenseman Erik Karlsson scored his first goal as a Shark in their 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, there were rumors he’d let some choice language fly.

“I don’t know if I said it in Swedish or English,” he jokingly told the media after the game at SAP Center. “If I said it in English, unfortunately it might be out there. If not, then you’re going to have to play the guessing game.”

Not that anyone could blame him for using some colorful verbiage. The pressure on the Swedish defenseman has been incredibly high since he arrived in San Jose at the start of training camp in September.

While he’s been contributing to the team on the back end during the Sharks' six-game homestand, Karlsson’s continued lack of goal production had his critics whipped into a frenzy. 

Finally notching that elusive goal helped put his entire body of work thus far into perspective.

“He’s been playing some really good hockey, and he’s been really solid for us lately,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. 

“It’s nice to see one go in here for him tonight,” forward Joe Pavelski complimented. “He wants to contribute. He has, in a lot of ways, just maybe not in the goal department.”

Karlsson has been pitching in as a helper on San Jose’s goals over the homestand, including in the second period of Saturday’s game when he set up Evander Kane’s tally to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead. He’s now riding a three-game assist streak with five points (one goal, four assists) in his last three games.

“I’ve been feeling good all year. It just hasn’t worked out on the score sheet,” Karlsson said. “But sometimes, that’s the way it is.”

The defenseman admitted he felt a sense of relief after he notched that first goal on the season, but he also emphasized he’s more concerned with how it helped the Sharks get a bounce-back victory over the Blues. 

“I think the win was extra good after the game against (the Toronto Maple Leafs),” Karlsson said. “I don’t think we played well there. To have this game tonight was important for us, and it shows character in the room.”

Now with that first goal out of the way, Karlsson’s critics perhaps can leave him to focus on helping his team win more games.

“I’m not here to play an individual game,” he summarized. “It’s nice to finally get one in the back of the net. But at the end of the day, this is a great win.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 shutout win over Blues

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 shutout win over Blues

SAN JOSE -– After being shut out 4-0 by Chad Johnson and the St. Louis Blues just eight days ago, the Sharks were looking for payback.

Boy, did they get it Saturday night. 

Fueled by Erik Karlsson’s first goal as a member of the Sharks, San Jose got back to its roots and put up an all-around defensive effort to pummel the Blues by a score of -– drumroll, please -– 4-0. 

Here are three takeaways from the game at SAP Center:

Karlsson’s big night

It took 21 games — and, as one fan on Twitter pointed out, exactly 65 days since he was acquired from Ottawa — but the two-time Norris Trophy winner finally found the back of the net.

Of course he also did it in epic fashion, banging home a one-timer that Johnson didn’t even see coming. You could see the relief on Karlsson’s face as the cameras zoomed in on him after the goal.

With that elusive first marker out of the way, it doesn’t hurt to wonder if that goal will open the floodgates. Karlsson’s individual game has visibly improved over the Sharks’ current six-game homestand, Saturday was his second consecutive game with two points, and his third n a row with at least one. 

Dell was a brick wall

Aaron Dell wasn’t tested as much this time around as he was against the Blues eight days ago. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ backup goalie made the big saves when he needed to on his way to registering his first career win against St. Louis.

Dell was particularly impressive in the third period. He stood tall to stop Vladimir Tarasenko from putting the Blues on the board just 10 seconds into the frame, and continued to stand his ground as St. Louis built momentum and tried to pin San Jose in its own end.

Identity found?

Following the Sharks’ 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, captain Joe Pavelski told the media the team wasn’t playing up to its identity as a defensively sound unit. Against the Blues, the Sharks’ sound defensive game was on full display.

It also didn’t hurt that multiple players had multi-point games in addition to Karlsson. Pavelski himself scored two goals, giving him 13 in 21 games, good for fourth in the NHL. New linemate Logan Couture assisted on three of San Jose’s four goals, including both of Pavelski’s. Timo Meier also pitched in as a helper on both of Pavelski’s goals.