Kevin Labanc

Kevin Labanc believes Sharks have tools to be best NHL team in 2020-21

Kevin Labanc believes Sharks have tools to be best NHL team in 2020-21

On paper, the Sharks have one of the best rosters in the NHL.

But on the ice, San Jose fell well below expectations during the 2019-20 season.

Coming off back-to-back 100-plus point seasons, the Sharks have just 63 points with 12 games remaining in the suspended season.

With the standings frozen due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Sharks have the worst record in the Western Conference.

But Sharks forward Kevin Labanc is confident they can turn things around next season.

"I think experience of us being together, it helps a lot," Labanc told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil last week. "And we know each of us can bring something to the table. We all know we can step up our game, be the best team in the league. We obviously didn't show it this past season, but I think we all know we can.

"It's obviously going to take a lot of hard work and dedication but we have the tools, we have the players to do so. It's just a mindset, coming to the rink every day, doing your workout."

Once the 2020 NHL offseason begins, Labanc will be a restricted free agent. Through 70 games, Labanc has scored 14 goals and dished out 19 assists.

[RELATED: Labanc considers mom a 'hero']

The Sharks are better than their 29-36-5 record. No one knows if they'll get a chance to prove it over the last 12 games of the current season. But whenever the 2020-21 season begins, they will be motivated to get back to the playoffs and make a run at Lord Stanley's Cup.

Why Sharks' Kevin Labanc considers his mom 'a hero' during coronavirus

Why Sharks' Kevin Labanc considers his mom 'a hero' during coronavirus

Sharks winger Kevin Labanc remains in California, wishing he could be in New York.
That’s where his mother, Anika, is a front desk receptionist at a doctor’s office in a state hit especially hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“She’s fighting this fight,” the Sharks forward said. ”It’s been a lot for her in the past month or two. She’s doing well, though.”

New York has over 334,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 27,000 people in the state have died, according to NBC News reporting.
Labanc is having to do the smart thing by keeping his distance from family, even though it’s not what he would prefer.
“I wish I could be there to support her,” Labanc said. “But (during) these times you really just have to stay in and do your part.”
Labanc is plainly proud of his mom, doing something considered heroic during current times.
“She has always been a hero to me, though,” Labanc said.

[RELATED: Sharks' Sorensen still skating, staying in 'normal' shape]
As for hockey, Labanc’s future is quite unpredictable at the moment. He will become a restricted free agent whenever the current season concludes in any fashion, and the 24-year-old is rumored to be a trade candidate.

Whether he stays in San Jose or not, Labanc has a lot of belief in the Sharks' ability to rebound and return to the playoffs next season.
“We have the tools, we have the players to do so," Labanc said. "It’s just a mindset.”

NHL free agency: How Sharks could benefit from league's lost revenue

NHL free agency: How Sharks could benefit from league's lost revenue

The NHL season remains indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and teams are preparing for the long-lasting changes it will cause. A huge revenue decrease is expected, and consequently, the 2020 free-agent market will be negatively impacted.

However, it might not be the worst thing for the Sharks.

Though the salary cap once was expected to significantly increase during the 2020 offseason, that no longer is the case. Earlier this month, TSN's Frankie Seravalli reported that teams are preparing as if the salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million for next season, with the most optimistic of expectations being a $1 million increase. As such, he expects many free agents will have to accept less money on the open market than they had been anticipating -- the reason being, there just aren't many teams with a lot of cap space.

According to Spotrac, seven teams will enter the offseason with less than $1 million in available cap space, and only half the league will enter it with more than $3 million. Unless teams find a way to generate considerable cap space, most of them won't have much wiggle room.

The Sharks, however, might stand to benefit.

Spotrac estimates San Jose currently will enter the 2020 offseason with just over $8 million in available cap space, which ranks as the seventh-most in the NHL. CapFriendly, however, estimates the Sharks have even more upcoming cap space -- just under $15 million to be exact. Though both of those numbers don't paint the full picture -- some of it would be used to re-sign some of the Sharks' pending free agents -- whatever the actual number is, it's likely to be considerably more than what most other teams have available to spend.

For a team intent on expediting a rebuild, that could come in very handy.

The Sharks did well to reload their cupboard of draft picks at the trade deadline, and if combined with some smart free-agent signings, San Jose could get back to a level of contention after a one-year hiatus. Forwards Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc are the Sharks' most notable pending free agents, but neither will break the bank. Consequently, San Jose should be in the mix for some prominent free agents, who will have a tough decision to make.

Do they sign longer-term contracts for less money, or sacrifice that security for a shorter contract, but bigger payout? There surely will be plenty of free agents in each bucket, but one could argue both mentalities could lead a player to consider the Sharks. If they prioritize dollars over term, San Jose should be able to offer them more than most other teams. And if they opt for more security and a longer contract, the Sharks' mix of talent, experience and youth could be very attractive.

[RELATED: Newly retired Ward hopes to return to Sharks as a coach]

In any case, it will be a very important offseason for the Sharks, whenever it takes place. They have several areas to address, and in a weird way, the indefinite pause of the season might help them do that.