The Sharks are in a somewhat unfamiliar spot this trade deadline.
San Jose almost certainly will not make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2015, making general manager Doug Wilson a seller heading into the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Wilson already has got the
ball rolling puck dropped on this process, shipping out defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a pair of draft picks. The return left a bit to be desired, as my comrade in content Brian Witt argued after the deal, but Dillon's departure formally marked the beginning of Wilson's re-tooling as he looks to get the Sharks back in playoff contention next season.
Who could be on their way out? Which contenders have salary-cap space to burn? Here are the answers to the most pressing questions headed into Monday's deadline.
When is the NHL trade deadline?
Monday, Feb. 24 at noon PT.
How much salary-cap space do the Sharks have?
The fine folks at Cap Friendly project the Sharks will have $6,431,667 in salary-cap space at the deadline. The Sharks have not yet placed defenseman Erik Karlsson on long-term injured reserve, according to the site, and placing his $11.5 million cap hit on LTIR would give San Jose a significant amount of room to work with.
Who are the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster?
Forwards Melker Karlsson ($2 million cap hit), Joe Thornton ($2 million), Patrick Marleau ($700,000), Stefan Noesen ($700,000), defensemen Tim Heed ($960,000), Radim Simek ($675,000) and goaltender Aaron Dell ($1.9 million) all can become UFAs on July 1.
Who is most likely to get traded?
Karlsson seems to be the likeliest candidate. He's a versatile bottom-six forward with three seasons of 10-plus goals who spends a lot of time on the penalty kill. The Swedish winger is not going to command a haul, but he's exactly the kind of player rival GMs with Stanley Cup aspirations give up a mid-round pick for at the deadline. But Karlsson left the Prudential Center in a walking boot after the Sharks' loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, according to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz, and the severity of the injury will determine what kind of return -- if any -- San Jose could fetch for the forward.
The Sharks seem to view Simek as part of their future on the blue line, while Noesen has scored just five goals in 24 games with San Jose since the Pittsburgh Penguins waived him earlier this season. Dell, Marleau and Thornton are intriguing trade possibilities, however.
The latter two wouldn't bring back much in a trade, but could the 40-year-olds compel a contender to pull a Ray Bourque and trade for a franchise icon in the twilight of his career? The call will be Marleau and Thornton's, especially in the latter case given the trade protection in his contract.
Dell has seized the reigns as the Sharks' starter in net, and San Jose's handling of him at the deadline will make it clear how the team views him heading into the 2020-21 season. The Sharks won't trade him if they see him as their starter next year, but it could be prudent to maximize the return if they don't. They'll be worse in the short-term, increasing the likelihood the Ottawa Senators draft a top prospect with one of the picks the Sharks traded for Erik Karlsson, but that shouldn't weigh into their decision since that's the risk you run when you don't lottery-protect a pick.
What about the rest of the Sharks' roster?
The Sharks are going to finish a mile out of the playoffs, and they have a lot of big money on the books. They are paying eight players at least $5 million: Two are done for the year (Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl), one is working his way back from injury (Logan Couture) and four of the five players have some kind of trade protection (Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones). Could the Sharks clear a star's salary at the deadline?
Wilson told reporters Tuesday that the Sharks have "the bones in place" of a playoff team next season, and it's difficult to envision San Jose reaching that goal without most of those contracts -- or equivalent players at different positions with similar salaries -- on the books. The Sharks tinkered around the edges of the roster in 2015 when they last missed the playoffs, saving the splash for the summer in trading for Jones.
Don't bet on the Sharks trading a big name -- or a prospect for a big name -- Monday, and save your predictions for NHL draft weekend in late June.
Who are the contenders to keep an eye on?
Any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a possibility, but some teams are worth monitoring more than others. Below is a non-exhaustive list of contenders who could call Wilson before Monday.
- Colorado Avalanche: The Avs currently have more salary-cap space than any team in playoff position (over $25.5 million as of this writing, per Cap Friendly), and top-six forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri currently are on injured reserve. NHL executives reportedly believe the Avalanche could be a fit for Thornton, and he wouldn't add any long-term money to Colorado's books.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told The Athletic that he is "looking for a bottom-six guy who can give us depth, fit in on different lines, give us some balance." That could be Melker Karlsson, if healthy, though Pittsburgh's lack of 2020 picks and subpar farm system mean Wilson should have better options elsewhere.
- Vegas Golden Knights: The Sharks have never traded with their division rivals, but Peter DeBoer now is behind the Golden Knights' bench. Vegas is right up against the cap, even with Alex Tuch on LTIR. San Jose would be able to retain salary on each of its pending free agents, or even take back a matching contract. Could the Knights be a Karlsson fit, given his history with DeBoer?
- Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes and lackluster goaltending have gone together like peanut butter and jelly over the last half-decade, and this year is no different. Carolina is in the bottom third of the league in 5-on-5 save percentage while in a fierce fight for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot. The Canes reportedly are interested in Chicago netminder Robin Lehner, and Dell would be a cheaper fallback option -- if the Sharks actually decide to trade him.
- Nashville Predators: Calling the Predators "contenders" is generous, but Nashville still has a path to the postseason. The Predators, like the Sharks, fired their coach earlier this season in hopes of meeting preseason expectations. Could Preds GM David Poile pull the trigger on a blockbuster, and possibly for one of the Sharks' aforementioned big contracts? Nashville seems like as good an option as any to pull off something surprising this deadline.
Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday, Feb. 24 at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!