NHL Seattle

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We begin with the 2021 Expansion Draft.

In less than a month, the Sharks will convene for training camp, marking the beginning of another pursuit of the elusive Stanley Cup.

San Jose has seen each of the last two champions bring an end to lengthy title droughts, an accomplishment for which it hopes to follow suit. The Sharks have been a frequent contender over the last two decades -- having qualified for the playoffs in all but two seasons since 1998 -- including each of the last four under Pete DeBoer.

Given the construct of San Jose's current roster, there's no reason to believe they'll fall precipitously from contention anytime soon. They've got an enviable collection of star players, most of which are locked up long-term. Those players have formed the core of a Cup finalist before, and after pushing the Blues to six games in the conference finals last year, clearly can do so again.

But what if one of those key players that the Sharks have depended on so often -- and will continue to moving forward -- suddenly is no longer around?

That is a legitimate possibility afforded by the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, through which the Seattle franchise will join the league as its 32nd team. Which forwards, defensemen and goalies the Sharks might protect have been covered in great detail, as have which players might be exposed.

If someone like Brent Burns or Evander Kane departs San Jose via the expansion draft, that obviously could have a drastic impact on the Sharks' ability to contend.

[RELATED: Why Sharks' defense has Hahn excited for 2019-20 season]

There is another angle to consider, as well. The last time the NHL had an expansion draft, it produced the Sharks' newest and most formidable rival in the Vegas Golden Knights. If the unnamed Seattle franchise -- who will join the Pacific Division -- can capitalize on the expansion draft like Vegas did, that could be yet another daunting intradivision competitor for San Jose, which could make the path to a cup all the more challenging.

The Sharks will lose just one player in the expansion draft, and it won't necessarily be one of the more high-profile players on their roster. Additionally, teams learned from the Vegas expansion draft, and have begun their preparation much further in advance than the last time around, meaning some of the mistakes the Golden Knights capitalized on might not be available to Seattle.

As such, who San Jose loses in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and how good Seattle becomes as a result isn't the biggest threat to the Sharks' championship hopes in the near future -- but as recent history has proven -- it can't be entirely discounted.

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: Forwards who Sharks protect depend on approach

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AP

NHL expansion draft: Forwards who Sharks protect depend on approach

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 forwards the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

The Sharks are well-positioned to hang on to their key forwards when the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft rolls around. As long as they take a similar approach to the previous expansion draft, that is. 

San Jose can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and a goaltender. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson opted for the latter option ahead of the 2017 draft, protecting then-pending unrestricted free-agent forward Ryan Carpenter and six others from being exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Carpenter joined the Golden Knights the following season after the Sharks waived him, but there were few other forwards they could protect while also satisfying the NHL's mandate that two under-contract forwards who played at least 70 games in the two seasons before the expansion draft or 40 games in the season immediately preceding it. Those rules remain in place for 2021 when Seattle joins the league, and the Sharks would have quite a few forwards with expansion eligibility who are under contract and/or team control beyond then.

Tomas Hertl (contract expiring in 2022), Timo Meier (2023), Evander Kane (2025) and Logan Couture (2027) all signed multi-year deals over the last two summers. Kevin Labanc, Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela each are at least two years away from unrestricted free agency. Hertl, Meier, Kane, Couture and Labanc figure to be established parts of the Sharks' forward corps by the time the expansion draft rolls around, even as Kane approaches his 30s and Couture moves deeper into his. San Jose has hopes Gambrell and Suomela can join those five as well. 

Thus, much of that group should form the backbone of the Sharks' protected forwards list in 2021. Some, however, could be exposed depending upon what other forwards are on the roster. 

Prospects like Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich automatically will be protected because they've not yet accrued any professional seasons. Depth forwards Melker Karlsson (2020), Barclay Goodrow, Lukas Radil and Marcus Sorensen (2021) conceivably could hit the games requirement, but each player would have to be re-signed in order to be eligible for exposure in the draft. 

If the Sharks opt to once again protect seven forwards in 2021, they shouldn't have to worry about exposing Hertl, Meier and the like. The risk drops if any of the previously mentioned role players re-signs, or if Gambrell and/or Suomela plateau as regular bottom-six regulars. Growth from any of those aforementioned players beyond a spot on the third or fourth line could present Wilson some difficult decisions, but he likely wouldn't sweat additional development from anyone in that group too much. 

[RELATED: Could Sharks lose big-name D-man to Seattle in expansion?]

Protecting eight skaters increases the risk of losing a talented forward, however slightly. Defensemen Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic must be protected because of their no-movement clauses, and protecting an additional blue liner leaves room for just five forwards. Still, it's difficult to envision the Sharks protecting any more than three defensemen as things stand right now, considering top prospects Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley won't be eligible for exposure. 

At that point, it wouldn't make sense for the Sharks to intentionally protect fewer forwards than the maximum allowed under the rules. As long as they acquire or re-sign depth forwards who are eligible to be exposed, Wilson and the Sharks likely won't have to stress losing a key piece up front to the NHL's newest team.