Brent Burns

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We continue with the 2018-19 Sharks.

The Sharks' most recent NHL season began with a bang before any games were played. They traded for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson on the eve of training camp, adding a two-time Norris Trophy winner to a blue line that already had 2016-17 Norris winner Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing leading roles. 

Karlsson needed time to adjust, and a series of groin injuries sapped his effectiveness down the stretch in his first season in teal. The Sharks didn't click for the entirety of the season, but the stretches in which they did gave a glimpse of the team's elite potential.

For instance, San Jose rattled off a 16-4-2 record from Dec. 2, 2018, until Jan. 16, 2019 -- the last game Karlsson played before missing 27 of the team's final 33 games -- and dominated the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-2 win right in the middle of that stretch. 

Even though Karlsson and others weren't healthy, the Sharks' season ended just two wins shy of the franchise's second-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. It marked the beginning of a new era, since Karlsson ultimately re-signed on an eight-year contract before free agency began, and the end of another, since it marked captain Joe Pavelski's final season with the team. 

Here's a look back at the 2018-19 Sharks, the third-best team in franchise history.

Why they're the best

If there was a deeper team on offense in Sharks history than last season’s squad, you'd have a hard time proving it. San Jose set a franchise record in goals (289), with nine players scoring at least 15. That also set a franchise record, and tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the NHL-lead in 2018-19.

The Sharks also were one of the best 5-on-5 puck-possession teams, finishing no worse than fifth in shot-attempt percentage (first), unblocked shot-attempt percentage (second), shots-for percentage (second), expected goals-for percentage (second), scoring-chance percentage (second) and high-danger chance percentage (fifth). Icing one of Burns -- who finished as a Norris Trophy finalist -- and Karlsson on most shifts helped, but so did the team's forward depth. 

San Jose was deep down the middle with Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton centering their own lines, and perhaps deeper on the wing with Pavelski, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen all hitting the aforementioned 15-goal threshold. Joonas Donskoi (14) wasn't far behind, and trade-deadline acquisition Gustav Nyquist gave the team even more skill. 

Why they're not

At their best, the Sharks were as good as any team in the league last season. But San Jose couldn't harness that for the entirety of the season, and it struggled to overcome poor performances in net and injuries to Karlsson and defenseman Radim Simek during the regular season. 

Although the Sharks scored more goals than every team but the Lightning and Calgary Flames, they allowed the 11th-most. Goaltenders Martin Jones (.896 save percentage) and Aaron Dell (.886) had the worst seasons of their professional careers, and no team had a worse overall save percentage during the regular season than the Sharks (.889).

Jones just about singlehandedly kept the Sharks' playoff hopes alive with a stellar performance in Game 6 of San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, but he book-ended a .916 in seven second-round games against the Colorado Avalanche with a .904 against in seven against Vegas and an .869 in six against the eventual-Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. 

Still, the Sharks were good enough to overcome Jones and Dell's struggles during the regular season -- up to a point. San Jose won six in a row after Karlsson aggravated his groin injury in late February, but proceeded to lose nine of its final 12 games after Simek's rookie season ended when he tore his ACL in mid-March.

Up one point in the race for the Western Conference's top seed at the time of Simek's injury, the Sharks finished the regular season six points shy of the Flames. San Jose's long list of playoff injuries didn't help matters, either, and another Sharks season ended without a Stanley Cup.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

The 2018-19 Sharks surely would top a list of the most talented teams in franchise history, even with the goaltenders' struggles and Karlsson's injury limiting him. That San Jose advanced further than it had in all but two seasons in franchise history is a testament to the roster Doug Wilson put together, as well as the team's resilience (and good fortune), but the Sharks' 27th season showed that talent can only overcome so much. 

As a result, a third-place ranking feels wholly appropriate. Back-to-back seven-game series against the Knights and Avalanche provided plenty of iconic playoff moments, and Sharks fans won't forget either Game 7 any time soon. Yet "what if" likely will be asked in the same breath.

The same question can be asked about every team that preceded them, of course, but it won't carry the same weight. 

Best teams in Sharks history

No. 5: 2001-02 
No. 4: 2005-06

NHL expansion draft: Projecting who Sharks will protect from Seattle

NHL expansion draft: Projecting who Sharks will protect from Seattle

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We conclude with a projection of the Sharks' protected list. 

Two summers from now, the Sharks will have to submit their protection list for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

While that may seem like quite a distance in the future, teams are already preparing for the arrival of the currently unnamed Seattle franchise, which will join the Pacific Division ahead of the 2021-22 season. Seattle's roster will be comprised of players from the other teams in the league (except Vegas) who were left unprotected by their respective clubs.

We've covered the rules that will govern the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, and identified the goalies, defensemen and forwards San Jose is likely to both protect and expose. San Jose has two options at its disposal. Either a) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or b) protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie.

Based on what we know now, here's an educated guess at who the Sharks will protect in each of those scenarios.

Option A: 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie)

Forwards
Logan Couture
Timo Meier
Tomas Hertl
Evander Kane
Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorensen
Alex True

Couture, Meier and Hertl are all locks to be protected. There's no chance Sharks general manager Doug Wilson lets any of them get away.

Kane is slightly more questionable, but hard to envision him not being protected in this scenario. He'll be entering his age-29 season at the time and carries a $7 million cap hit, but there's a reason Wilson both traded for the dynamic winger and signed him to a long-term contract.

Labanc just re-signed a one-year contract with San Jose, but he appears to be a critical piece of their foundation moving forward. If the Sharks re-sign him to a long-term contract next offseason, you can be sure it's with the intention of keeping him in San Jose for more than a year.

Sorensen and True are the toughest calls here, as it likely means exposing other young forwards like Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela. However, True's development -- he led the AHL Barracuda with 55 points in 68 games last season -- makes that easier to swallow. Sorensen is due to hit unrestricted free agency during the 2021 offseason, but the bet here is that San Jose re-signs the speedy winger (who has been a favorite of Peter DeBoer's) and protects him as well.

Defensemen
Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Brent Burns

Karlsson and Vlasic are certainties. Both have no-movement clauses and are thus automatically protected unless they waive those clauses, which they won't.

Burns, on the other hand, has no such clause, and there is certainly a scenario in which San Jose elects to expose him. For instance, if Burns declines rapidly over the next two seasons, and is entering his age-36 season with still three additional seasons left of an $8 million cap hit, the expansion draft would afford the Sharks the opportunity to get out of the remainder of that contract. Of course, there's no guarantee that he would be picked up by Seattle in that situation.

However, based on Burns' performance last season, a rapid drop-off doesn't seem likely. And if he is able to maintain anything close to his Norris Trophy-level production, there simply isn't another defensemen in the organization worth protecting over Burns at this time.

Goalie
Martin Jones

One could make the case the Sharks should expose Jones, but looking at the current organizational depth chart, San Jose might not be able to risk that. Of course, if 21-year-old Josef Korenar (2.54 GAA, .911 SV% in 34 games with the Barracuda last season) makes the leap between now and the expansion draft, things could get very interesting.

Option B: 9 players (eight skaters, one goalie)

Skaters
Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Logan Couture
Timo Meier
Tomas Hertl
Evander Kane
Kevin Labanc
Alex True

The tough decisions here revolve around Kane and Burns. If the Sharks choose to go with Option B, it's difficult to envision them using three of their eight skater protections on defensemen. With Karlsson and Vlasic having no-movement clauses, Burns is the odd man out.

It could certainly come down to a choice between Kane and Burns, given their sizeable cap hits. If one of San Jose's young forward prospects, such as Alex Chmelevski or Ivan Chekhovich, emerges between now and then, it might allow the Sharks to expose Kane and protect Burns (or anyone else) instead. 

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

This is a projection for True, but if he continues along his current trajectory, the 22-year old will be worth protecting in either scenario.

Goalie:
Martin Jones

See Option A. Unless another goalie emerges, the Sharks probably won't be able to afford to let Jones get away. However, San Jose likes its organizational depth at that position, and it will be worth keeping an eye on who Jones' backup is over the next two seasons.

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

Verdict

As things currently stand, it sure seems like San Jose's evaluation of Burns heading into the 2021 offseason will have a determining effect on which option the Sharks choose to go with. If they feel like he can still play at a high level two years from now, then Option A would seem to be the way to go. But if Burns falls off, or if San Jose needs to find a way to get out of some major salary, he could be on the chopping block.

NHL expansion draft: Sharks could protect, expose superstar defensemen

burnskarlssonap.jpg
AP

NHL expansion draft: Sharks could protect, expose superstar defensemen

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We continue with an examination of which defensemen the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

If one of the Sharks' position groups drives home the uncertainty of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, it's their defense. 

San Jose currently has three blue liners under contract for the 2021-22 season, which will be Seattle's first in the NHL: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Whether the Sharks opt to protect 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie) or nine (eight skaters and a goaltender), Karlsson and Vlasic likely are going to have their names on the protected lists. 

That's because both players' contracts contain no-movement clauses. Unless they opt to waive those clauses, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson will have to protect both players ahead of the expansion draft. Burns, who will be 36 at the time of the draft and is under contract until 2025, would not have to be protected. 

Could the Norris Trophy winner -- and three-time finalist -- be available for the Metropolitans Sasquatch Salmon Unnamed Seattle Franchise when the team joins the league in 2021? Much of that will depend upon Burns' performance, and just what San Jose's defense looks like in two years. 

According to the league's rules, the Sharks will have to expose a defenseman who is under contract for Seattle's first season (2021-22) and has played in either 40 games in 2020-21 or 70 total games in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Defensive prospects Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley could reach those totals if they're on the NHL roster, but both players automatically are protected since neither would have played more than two professional seasons at that point. 

Brenden Dillon, Tim Heed and Radim Simek all can hit unrestricted free agency in 2020, when the Sharks would have $62 million in salary commitments and 11 players under contract, according to Cap Friendly. That probably won't cause a salary-cap crunch that resulted in forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist departing as unrestricted free agents while San Jose worked out an eight-year deal with Erik Karlsson and a four-year deal with Timo Meier.

But Kevin Labanc's new contract and/or Ferraro, Merkley or another prospect being ready for a bigger role could make the Sharks let Dillon, Heed or Simek test the market. 

As a result, the 2020 offseason should be instructive of the Sharks' plans for the expansion draft the following summer. Retaining any of the aforementioned three players likely would give the Sharks at least one defenseman who they are able to expose other than Burns, assuming they hit the games requirement. A prospect who already has made their pro debut, such as Nick DeSimone or Jacob Middleton, emerging as an NHL option could add another eligible unprotected player, as would signing a defenseman from a large free-agent class next summer.

If Burns, who just scored a career-high 83 points and has played 82 games each of the last five seasons, continues to perform at an elite level into his mid-30s, the Sharks conceivably could protect him in an expansion draft for the second time in five years. As it stands right now, they would need to retain some of their pending free agents or have a younger internal candidate replace one of them.

If Burns begins to decline, San Jose conceivably could choose to expose him in the draft. They have parted ways with two of the four longest-tenured players in franchise history (Pavelski and Patrick Marleau) in two of the last three offseasons, and exposing Burns would clear an $8 million cap hit. 

[RELATED: Which goalie will Sharks protect in expansion draft?]

Of course, that doesn't mean he would be Seattle-bound. The NHL's 32nd team would need to take on enough salary to reach at least 60 percent of the 2020-21 salary-cap ceiling, but general manager Ron Francis might turn to Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee's playbook and take on shorter-term contracts.

Plenty can change between now and the 2021 expansion draft, and the Sharks' lack of salary commitments outside of their big three on the blue line creates plenty of possibilities. We know which defensemen the Seattle franchise won't be able to choose, but the ones it can are up in the air.