Timo Meier

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. 

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 38 goals last season. That's 38 goals that now reside with the Dallas Stars.

It's not as if San Jose lacked for goal scoring this past year, having ranked second in the league with an average of 3.52 goals per game during the regular season. However, no Sharks player found the back of the net more often than Pavelski, meaning that if the Sharks are going to maintain or even surpass that offensive output next season, they're going to have to find those 38 goals elsewhere.

San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer touched on that very subject in a recent interview with NHL.com's Mike Zeisberger, in which he insisted that Pavelski's character will be tougher to replace than his goal-scoring.

"Look, it's hard to replace Pav's 38 goals," DeBoer conceded. "We scored a lot of goals last year and if we score a little bit less I don't think it will kill us. At least I hope it doesn't. The goals are one thing, but it's the leadership, the presence, the message that he would convey in the dressing room when times were tough. Those are the things that are harder to replace than his goals."

Part of the reason DeBoer is confident his team can adequately fill Pavelski's scoring void is due to the continued progression he's expecting from young players already on the roster.

"We've got to continue to hope that guys like Timo Meier can build on the season he had last year," DeBoer said. "Kevin Labanc too. I think Doug [Wilson] has done a great job of setting us up with young players in the pipeline we feel can create some offense."

Additionally, after Erik Karlsson was banged up throughout much of his debut season with the Sharks, DeBoer is hopeful the former Norris Trophy winner can have an even greater offensive impact moving forward after signing an eight-year contract in the offseason.

"When we had the opportunity to acquire Erik Karlsson last summer there was no hesitation in anyone's opinion to go forward on the possibility of doing that," DeBoer insisted. "Those are generational-type players and they rarely become available, if at all. It was a no-brainer to trade for him and it was a no-brainer to sign him. 

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic power play]

"He's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going forward," DeBoer continued. "You take out Pavelski but you add Karlsson and some young guys. … The game might change in how we create and how we do things but I think he's going to have a big impact. The two months he was healthy he controlled a lot of the games we played. We just need to get him healthy so he can have a full healthy year to get into rhythm."

The Sharks are going to feel Pavelski's departure in more ways than one. Yes, his 355 goals rank second all-time in franchise history, but he brought so much more to the table than simply the ability to put the biscuit in the basket. However, if Karlsson, Meier, Labanc and others can combine to fill his resulting scoring void, Pavelski's absence won't be nearly as noticeable.

How Timo Meier’s new contract actually can help cap-strapped Sharks

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USATSI

How Timo Meier’s new contract actually can help cap-strapped Sharks

The Sharks still have a lot of work to do this offseason and not a lot of cap space to work with. But believe it or not, things could actually be much more difficult if it wasn't for Timo Meier.

San Jose signed the 22-year-old to a four-year, $24 million deal at the opening of free agency that will keep him in teal for the foreseeable future. Not only did the deal get done quickly, but the price tag actually helps out the cap-strapped Sharks.

Sure, getting $6 million a year doesn't seem like much of a bargain, especially when you consider Meier now is the third-highest paid forward on the team behind Logan Couture ($8 million) and Evander Kane ($7 million). 

But the deal for a player who tallied 30 goals last season actually is very team-friendly when you consider that the Canadiens signed RFA Sebastian Aho, also a 30-goal scorer, to an offer sheet worth over $8 million. Or that a deal for Mitch Marner, considered the top RFA on the market right now, could be somewhere in the $9 million range -- which is no doubt giving the cap-hovering Maple Leafs nightmares.

With that mind, the Meier deal looks incredibly reasonable.

Sharks' general manager Doug Wilson expressed in a phone interview with the press on July 1 how happy the team was to get a deal with Meier done so quickly.

"We appreciate when (players) step up and take control of their situation," Wilson complimented. "Certainly helps us, but also sends a strong message about how they feel about our team, too."

Getting a deal done before another team could swoop in with an offer also potentially saved the Sharks some money. San Jose made it clear at the start of their offseason that getting Meier under contract was one of their top priorities, so getting something done before another team could offer more money and longer term than the Sharks would want to match was a big help. 

With Meier's deal done on the first day of free agency, San Jose is in a better position to address its remaining roster holes and lack of cap space over the next couple of months. Had Meier and his agent wanted a longer or larger deal -- or even worse, ended up in a William Nylander-type standoff -- the Sharks likely would've been held up as far as getting some of their other players signed.

[RELATED: How losing to Sharks drove Avs to go big in free agency]

Which brings us to the rest of the offseason, one where they still have a lot of work to do. The Sharks still only have $6,382,583 in cap space and are going to have to make at least one trade to free up room to sign their next crop of free agents. Kevin Labanc and Dylan Gambrell still top the list of RFAs the Sharks probably want to be signed to deals soon.

At least with Meier's not terribly expensive deal done, the Sharks can get to work doing just that.