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Sharks entering key stretch with playoff race, brutal schedule, Hertl contract situation

San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 16: Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks skates ahead with the puck against Noah Juulsen #47 of the Vancouver Canucks in a regular season game at SAP Center on December 16, 2021 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI)

NHLI via Getty Images

The Pacific Division playoff race is wide open right now thanks to a couple of rebuilding teams exceeding expectations (Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose) and a couple of teams that were supposed to be playoff contenders being mild (Calgary, Vancouver) to major (Edmonton) disappointments.

With Vancouver’s recent surge under new coach Bruce Boudreau pretty much every team in the division outside of Seattle has at least some reason to believe they might still be in it for the time being. One of the more fascinating teams in the race is the San Jose Sharks, a team that entered the season with almost no expectations after being one of the league’s worst teams the past two years.

The Sharks spent the offseason overhauling their goalie situation (bringing in James Reimer and Adin Hill, but only minor tweaks elsewhere on the roster. They were mostly banking on returning players having bounce back years and the goaltending being better. So far, pretty much all of that is happening.

After having some of the worst goaltending in the league over the previous three seasons, Reimer and Hill have teamed up to at least give them a league-average performance, while several high-priced veterans have had bounce back years including Timo Meier, Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, and Brent Burns. If nothing else, it has at least made them a bubble team in the playoff race and given fans a reason to pay attention to the standings at the halfway point, which is more than can be said over the past couple of years.

[Related: Which teams still have realistic chance to make the playoffs]

Speaking of those standings, the Sharks are currently in the second Wild Card spot based on raw point totals but nearly everybody has games in hand on them.

Here is where things stand based on points percentage (current point pace in parenthesis).

  • Vegas Golden Knights: .615 (101)
  • Los Angeles Kings: .592 (97)
  • Calgary Flames: .588 (96)
  • Anaheim Ducks: .549 (90)
  • Edmonton Oilers: .543 (89)
  • San Jose Sharks: .538 (88)
  • Vancouver Canucks: .487 (79)
  • Seattle Kraken: .324 (53)

Expand that to the Wild Card race, and Central division teams Winnipeg (95 point pace) and Dallas (89 point pace) are also teams for them to watch.

So, not an ideal situation to be in, but still somewhat in it.

Also not idea is their schedule over the next two months between now and the NHL trade deadline.

Between Monday and March 18 the Sharks have 18 games scheduled. Of those 18 games they play 10 games against teams that are currently in the top-11 league-wide in points percentage (Tampa Bay twice, Florida twice, Colorado, Carolina, Washington, Vegas, Boston, and Nashville) and another five games against teams they are directly competing with in the Pacific Division for a playoff spot (four against Los Angeles and one against Anaheim). The only three games they play during that stretch against bottom half teams are two against Seattle and one against the New York Islanders (a team that is starting to play a little better).

This is not only a make-or-break stretch in the playoff race, the schedule itself is absolutely brutal filled with the “four point game” (Los Angeles and Anaheim) and a ton of Stanley Cup contenders.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Panthers keep embarrassing teams; Shesterkin carries Rangers]

We are about to learn a lot about the Sharks and whether or not they are a serious contender for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division and Western Conference. If they can win some of those games against Los Angeles and Anaheim, and maybe just keep their heads above water against those top contenders, they will be able to stay in this.

While all of that is taking place, the Sharks have another situation to watch as they continue to deal with Tomas Hertl -- one of their best players -- who continues to play out the final year of his current contract and is a pending unrestricted free agent after this season. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported this past week that with Evander Kane no longer in the picture the Sharks might be willing to circle back on contract talks with Hertl. Does the combination of some additional salary cap space, combined with the fact the Sharks are hanging around in the playoff race, change their plans?

Hertl also has an extremely limited no-trade clause that gives him almost complete control of where he would go if the Sharks decide to deal him.

Hertl, 28, is having a great season and is currently on a 40-goal pace for the Sharks. If they were to put him on the trade market there would be no shortage of potential buyers (assuming Hertl would okay the trade) while he would also be one of the top potential free agents this summer.

Between that, the schedule, and their hope of staying in the playoff race the Sharks are going to be one of the more intriguing teams to watch over the next couple of weeks.