Ilya Kovalchuk

Sharks' division rivals keep busy during Draft weekend

Sharks' division rivals keep busy during Draft weekend

While word got out during the NHL Draft that the Sharks would meet this week with the summer's best available free agent, their division rivals were busy reshaping their own rosters. 

Their biggest rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, made arguably the biggest one. The Kings agreed to a three-year, $18.75 million contract with Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who will return to the NHL after spending the last five years in the KHL. Kovalchuk nearly signed with the Kings eight years ago, opting to sign a 15-year, $101 million deal with the New Jersey Devils (after an arbitrator voided a 17-year, $102 million deal that same offseason) instead. The Sharks were linked to Kovalchuk before he ultimately made his decision, as it would have reunited him with former Devils head coach Peter DeBoer, but his top choice was always to play in Los Angeles, according to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun

It's something of a question how well Kovalchuk, now 35, will reintegrate in the NHL. He was, however, one of the league's most dynamic players before his Russian homecoming, and was over a point-per-game player in the second-best league in the world. If his return to the NHL is successful, San Jose will doubtlessly be reminded of what it's missing (at least) four times a year. 

The Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks, the other two Pacific Division teams that qualified for the postseason in 2017-18, largely stayed quiet. Meanwhile, two teams that didn't make the playoffs, the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes, tried to ensure that wouldn't happen again. 

Calgary made the biggest trade of any team at the draft, shipping out defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for blueliner Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm. Flames general manager Brad Treliving alluded that Hamilton wasn't happy in Calgary, while the Hurricanes were reportedly at an impasse in negotiations with Hanifin and Lindholm. 

Hanifin is a great young defenseman, while Lindholm is one of the better forwards in terms of driving play. Hamilton, however, is one of the league's elite defensemen.

Since entering the league during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, 182 defensemen have played 3000 five-on-five minutes. Only three have posted a better corsi-for percentage (54.72 percent), and just 24 have a better expected-goals pecentage (53.14 percent). Last season, he and Mark Giordano were the league's best pairing (min. 500 minutes) by the former metric, and fifth-best by the latter. The Sharks won't welcome seeing a Girodano-Troy Bodie reunion, but should enjoy only having to play Hamilton twice a year now. 

Arizona made the biggest pre-draft splash in acquiring Alex Galchenyuk in exchange for Max Domi, and reportedly fortified its blueline. The Coyotes reportedly agreed to a two-year extension with Swedish defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson on Saturday, which comes two weeks after reportedly agreeing to an extension with their other Swedish blueliner, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. 

Hjalmarsson, who once signed an offer sheet with San Jose in 2010, missed significant time last season, and Arizona suffered in his absence. No regular Coyotes defenseman had a higher five-on-five expected-goals percentage (51.1 percent).

After he returned on Jan. 12, the Coyotes went 19-14-6, and had much better underlying numbers five-on-five (49.3 percent corsi-for, 48 percent expected goals). Reportedly locking him up, as well as Ekman-Larsson, is a nice start to their offseason, and they may yet surprise the Sharks and the rest of the Pacific Division. 

Of course, there's still plenty of offseason left. 

Assessing how Sharks' two trades impact the rest of their offseason plans


Assessing how Sharks' two trades impact the rest of their offseason plans

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson got an early start to his morning on Tuesday, making a pair of deals before most of the team's fans had woken up. 

To recap: San Jose acquired winger Mike Hoffman, a pick, and a prospect from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a package centered around struggling forward Mikkel Boedker. Ottawa announced that deal at 4:58 a.m. PT.  The Sharks then flipped Hoffman and a pick to the Florida Panthers for a trio of draft selections, a trade that Florida officially announced at 7:17 a.m. PT. 

Here's what each team acquired after the dust settled:

Sharks get:

  • Defenseman Cody Donaghey (from Senators)
  • 2020 fifth-round pick (from Senators)
  • 2018 fourth-round pick (from Panthers)
  • 2018 fifth-round pick (from Panthers)
  • 2019 second-round pick (from Panthers)

Senators get (from Sharks):

  • Forward Mikkel Boedker
  • Defenseman Julis Bergman
  • 2020 sixth-round pick

Panthers get (from Sharks):

  • Forward Mike Hoffman
  • 2018 seventh-round pick 

So what does it all mean for the Sharks? Perhaps most importantly, trading Boedker's contract, who was just seeming to find his place in the lineup down the stretch this season after signing a four-year deal with the team two summers ago, clears an additional $4 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons (and $6 million in total salary).  With the cap set to rise to between $78 million and $82 million, San Jose would (as of now) have between $14.5 million and $18.5 million in cap space, and that's before considering the possibility that the team buys out Paul Martin's contract. 

Even if no other moves are made, the Sharks are in position to make a splash in free agency. According to The Sporting News' Evan Sporer, their maneuvering is designed to chase not one, but two of the biggest free-agent fish this summer. 

In his statement announcing the trades, Wilson said the deals "free up a substantial amount of cap space for internal and external player options in the coming months," and re-stocked on draft picks. It was a tidy bit of trading, as San Jose improved upon each of the selections it traded away, and now has seven picks in this year's draft after entering the day with just five. 

He also said that the deal opens a spot for the young forwards in the organization to challenge for ice time. Wilson specifically mentioned Kevin Labanc (who actually averaged more ice time than Boedker this season), playoff hero Marcus Sorensen, newly-signed European free agents Antti Suomela and Vincent Praplan, as well as rookies Dylan Gambrell and Max Letunov. 

Meanwhile, Hoffman joined Theo Fleury and Mark Messier in the "Sharks For A Few Hours" club, and has a new home following accusations that his girlfriend, Monica Caryk, harassed a teammate's wife. Last week, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Melinda Karlsson, wife of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, had filed for an order of protection against Hoffman's girlfriend and accused her of an online harassment campaign throughout the season.

As a result, Hoffman's trade value plummeted from where it was at the trade deadline, according to ESPN's  Greg Wyshynski.

Pierre LeBrun told TSN that the trade was not a three-way deal, as the Sharks and Senators reportedly did not communicate about the subsequent trade with the Panthers. Wilson's no stranger to creatively facilitating some of the offseason's biggest deals, however. He acquired a pair of players and a pick from the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010 so Atlanta could acquire Dustin Byfuglien from then-Stanley Cup champions Chicago, and  he also acquired goaltender Martin Jones from the Boston Bruins three years ago just days after the Los Angeles Kings shipped him (and a first-round pick) up to Boston for Milan Lucic.

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

CHICAGO – Ilya Kovalchuk is still reportedly mulling over a return to the NHL, four years after he surprisingly walked away from a monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL.

The Sharks have been linked to Kovalchuk, in large part because of Pete DeBoer, who was Kovalchuk’s most recent head coach. In 2011-12, Kovalchuk was a dangerous scoring winger under DeBoer, helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.

It was apparently a good working relationship between the player and the coach for the two seasons they were together, DeBoer said on Friday at the NHL Entry Draft at United Center.

“I loved Kovy in New Jersey,” DeBoer said. “We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”

DeBoer said he’s had no contact with the 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who would have to be traded by New Jersey before signing a new contract with any other NHL club. Still, it seems like the Sharks’ coach might welcome a reunion with Kovalchuk, who posted 78 points in 60 games with SKA Saint Petersburg last season, and has 816 points (417g, 399a) in 816 career NHL games with Atlanta and New Jersey.

“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person,” DeBoer said.

* * *

DeBoer seemed as uncertain as everyone else as to whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will return to the Sharks or move on to other clubs as free agents.

But, naturally, it’s on his mind.

“You think about it all the time,” DeBoer said. “They’re obviously important pieces in the history of the franchise, and in our group. I also understand the business side of this, and there’s always tough decisions to make. The way I approach these type of things is I’m going to go to Canada and relax, and Doug [Wilson] is going to make those decisions. I’m sure we’ll have a good group come training camp.”

“We’ve got a really good core group of guys and some tough decisions that have to be made. The one thing Doug and his group has shown over the years is their ability to stay competitive, to find a way even after making tough decisions. I have all the faith in the world in that, and I’m excited about training camp.”

* * *

The Sharks lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft earlier in the week. Vegas then flipped him to the Canadiens for a fifth round pick in 2019.

“I think for David, it’s a great opportunity for him, especially going to Montreal,” DeBoer said. “For us, it’s an opportunity for a young guy to jump in. The one thing we have in the organization is some depth. There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door, and guys hungry to grab that job.”