NHL Expansion Draft

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

We don't know when the next NHL season will begin or end, but once it does, a new team officially will join the fold.

The still-unnamed Seattle expansion franchise will become the league's 32nd team, and in the process, the Sharks will lose a player from their roster as part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Not everyone in San Jose will be up for grabs. The Sharks, along with the other 30 current NHL teams, will be permitted to protect a group of their players from the expansion draft according to one of two options. Either a) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or b) protect eight skaters and one goalie.

So, where does that leave the Sharks? 

By narrowing down who San Jose is likely to protect, we can zero in on which players are likely to be exposed.

Automatically protected: Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (no-movement clauses)
Certain to be protected: Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier
Very likely to be protected: Evander Kane

That's six pretty-darn-sure things already, plus an unnamed goalie. So, under this assumption, the Sharks would only be able to protect three more forwards and one additional defenseman under Option A, or just two more skaters under Option B.

Though nearly all of San Jose's top prospects will be automatically exempt due to lack of service time, Jonathan Dahlen -- generally regarded as the Sharks' second-best prospect -- will be eligible for inclusion due to his playing AHL games in 2017-18. So, chances are, they'll protect him as well.

Regardless of which option San Jose goes with, that doesn't leave them many more choices. As such, here are some of the more notable names that the Sharks might be forced to make available to Seattle in the expansion draft:

Brent Burns

What the Sharks decide to do with Burns likely will depend on the trajectory of the team heading into the 2021 offseason. If San Jose successfully turns things around in short order, then keeping the 36-year-old Burns -- who has another four years left on his contract at $8 million per season -- will make a lot more sense than if an extended rebuild appears to be on the horizon.

The Sharks have several large salaries on their books, and making Burns available would be one possible way to alleviate some of that building pressure. Of course, if Burns has a Norris-type season next year, San Jose likely will do everything it can to keep him. More than anything, Burns' performance next season likely will have the most determining effect on who the Sharks make available.

[RELATED: Why Sharks shouldn't be counted out if Eichel seeks trade]

Martin Jones

Assuming he's still on the roster and doesn't have a major bounce-back season, Jones would seem to be one of the more likely inclusions on San Jose's unprotected list. He carries a hefty price tag and hasn't lived up to it for the last couple of years.

Of course, the Sharks don't really have anything in the way of an established goalie behind him -- Aaron Dell is an unrestricted free agent -- so if one doesn't emerge, they might be forced to protect him. If San Jose makes Jones available, that likely means one of the Sharks' goaltending prospects made a significant leap or a free agent outperformed him in the year ahead.

Kevin Labanc

He brings plenty of talent to the table and has been useful on the power play. But Labanc's problem is consistency. On some nights, he's one of the best players on the ice. Others, you hardly notice him. He bet on himself last offseason, but it didn't appear to pay off.

A restricted free agent, San Jose should be able to re-sign him at an affordable price. He still is only 24 years old, though. Should Labanc take a couple steps forward next season, it likely will come at a discount, which the Sharks would likely want to protect. If he's ultimately made available, he could offer the combination of youth and talent that would pique Seattle's interest.

Stefan Noesen

Acquired early in the season, Noesen, 27, made a strong impression during his first year in San Jose. He provided the occasional offense, scoring six goals in 34 games, as well as some sorely-needed toughness. He also immediately became a leader in the locker room.

Noesen currently is an unrestricted free agent, but it would be surprising if he didn't start next season in a Sharks sweater, and he shouldn't be too costly either. If he can build off this past season's performance, one would imagine San Jose would prefer to keep him around. Who else the Sharks protect likely will determine if he can be protected or not.

Dylan Gambrell/Antti Suomela/Alex True

Gambrell has accomplished the most of the three, but he's running short on time. A restricted free agent at the end of next season, he'll be eligible for inclusion in the expansion draft if he plays in at least 20 games. Unless he breaks out, Gambrell seems likely to be one of the names the Sharks leave unprotected.

You could say the same thing about Suomela -- assuming the restricted free agent is re-signed -- who has notched four goals and 11 assists over 47 NHL games across the last two seasons. He's still only 26, but has yet to live up to his potential. True, on the other hand, is younger (22 years old) and was fairly noticeable over the course of his NHL debut this season. He should have a good opportunity to begin the season with San Jose, and would seem to be the most likely of the three to carve out a long-term role with the big club.

What Scott Hannan misses about sports during NHL coronavirus hiatus

What Scott Hannan misses about sports during NHL coronavirus hiatus

Editor's note: Like you, NBC Sports Bay Area insiders, reporters and analysts are feeling the sports void during the coronavirus stoppage. They'll share their thoughts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in "What I Miss About Sports." Next up in the series: Sharks analyst Scott Hannan.

I have a confession to make. I miss hockey. I don't say this just as a retired hockey player looking back at my career, I say this as a fan of the sport. From growing up a Vancouver Canucks fan idolizing the likes of Doug Lidster and Jyrki Lumme. To watching Pavel Bure streak down the ice to score another goal.

As a player and getting paid to do what I loved, I have so much to be grateful for. I was able to travel and meet people from all over the world, creating lasting friendships along the way. I met my wife and started a family while playing hockey. I've called many places home. All of these, and much more, happened with one constant: hockey.

To be sure, my perspective as a player was different than as a fan. When I was younger, I'm not sure I recognized just how fortunate I was. I guess I thought things would last forever. We are all guilty of taking things for granted from time to time and, I must admit, I think I took hockey for granted at times. It wasn't until the end that I realized just how much I loved the game and how much I would miss playing. Life happens faster than you think.

Since retiring from professional hockey, I've been able to sink into the role of being a fan once again. Going to games, watching them on TV, using hockey as an excuse to hang out with friends, and phone calls with buddies trying to guess what's going to happen around the NHL trade deadline.

And then there was Game 7 against the  Vegas Golden Knights last year. The excitement that was building that erupted into madness that included every Sharks player on the ice and every Sharks fan in the Tank. I was one of those fans. I was part of the joy and the mania that erupted when Barclay Goodrow scored "The Goal" to seal the Sharks' first-round victory and epic comeback.

It was a new perspective going from a fan to a player and back to a fan again. That joy. That comradery amongst fans. I am humbled that I, in some fashion was able to bring joy to fans during my time playing.

[RELATED: How Hertl's rehab is going]

And now there are no sports. There is no hockey. Hockey is not happening somewhere, anywhere. It feels, in a way, like a second retirement. A similar sense of loss. As the saying goes, "You don't realize what you have until it's gone."

The absence of hockey will one day, come to an end. I will step back on the ice and be able to coach my kids. We will be able to watch Sharks games, both live and on TV, feel the excitement again. At some point in the not-too-distant future, this difficult time will pass. In the meantime, I'll get to spend quality time with my family at home. Help my kids improve their skills in the backyard. And I'll remember that even these little things cannot be taken for granted.

Until the puck drops.

More from "What I Miss About Sports"

Before Sharks return, Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs

Before Sharks return, Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs

Patrick Marleau has played for two NHL teams.

He has left quite a mark on both of them.

Marleau instantly became the best story in the league so far this season when he scored two goals against the Blackhawks in his first game back with the Sharks last Friday. The franchise's all-time leader in games played and goals scored re-signed with San Jose after the Sharks incurred some injuries on their way to an 0-3 start.

Marleau clearly is happy to be back with the team he began his career with, and as if the two-goal performance wasn't an indication, the feeling is mutual. It was his first game since last April when Marleau was still with Toronto, and although he was only with the Maple Leafs for two seasons, he left a lasting impression on them.

"He means a lot to a lot of guys on this team and he’s a close friend of mine,” Toronto's Auston Matthews said of Marleau to SportsNet's Chris Johnston. “Just the way he is as a player and as a person, I think it’s just something that we can all kind of take bits and pieces of and apply it to ourselves. Not just on the ice, but off the ice as well. Just how he treats people and just the way he is and just his presence."

"He’s been in this league for [22 years] and every time someone walked in -- no matter if it was their first game or not -- he was always there to introduce himself and talk to them and try and help out if anything could be done,” Mitch Marner said of his former teammate. "His legacy here, I think, is just how respected he was around our room and around the league and just how much he meant to our team."

Upon his arrival in Toronto, Marleau took the younger Matthews and Marner under his wing. They became travel buddies, and the young phenoms even grew close with Marleau's family.

They were both pleased to hear that Marleau wound back up in San Jose.

"He deserved to play somewhere in this league," Marner commented.

"It was great to see that," Matthews said.

[RELATED: Agent reiterates Marleau only wanted to play for Sharks]

Marleau won't have to wait long to make a return to the arena he once called home, as the Sharks travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 25.

Of course, Marleau has another homecoming to get through first. That would be San Jose's game against Calgary on Sunday, Marleau's second first home game with the team that drafted him.