Sharks should target five players eliminated from playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Let’s say you’re Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.
You have your work cut out for you this summer, trying to build a team that can return to the Stanley Cup playoffs while dealing with a flat salary cap and an expansion draft in July. Oh, and you have your highest draft pick since 2015.
Got all that?
You have plenty of time to kill, too, with the first round of the draft not occurring until July 23. So, how do you spend all of it? By reaching out to your recently eliminated colleagues, of course.
The second round of the playoffs is well underway, with quite a few franchises looking to make tweaks — if not full overhauls — in order to advance beyond the first round next year. Those are the teams you should be eyeing, with many of those teams featuring compelling players who would check off the biggest boxes on the offseason to-do list.
Who are those players? Here’s a look at five the Sharks should be circling this offseason.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will insist until they’re blue in the face — yes, even bluer than the fans with painted faces in Maple Leaf Square — that they won’t trade one of their Core Four forwards. But with $40 million tied up in Marner, Nylander, Auston Matthews and John Tavares, something has to give, right?
Matthews isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Tavares, unless there’s another team with its likeness on his childhood bed sheets that will get him to waive a no-movement clause. That leaves Marner ($10.9 million salary cap hit for four more seasons) and Nylander ($6.96 million for three more), as neither has any trade protection.
The former struggled for his third consecutive postseason, while the latter has faced criticism for a supposed lack of consistency. Both players would’ve led the Sharks in scoring this year, though, and San Jose should really press Toronto’s brain trust on its willingness to part with either player.
Given the Leafs’ cap situation, is there a Hockey Trade to be made with one of the Sharks’ young wingers and, if needed, some draft capital? Timo Meier ($6 million cap hit) and Kevin Labanc are ($4.725 million) are cheaper and would allow the Maple Leafs to clear space to address other areas on the roster. Wilson can give Toronto something to think about.
Wilson publicly identified third-line center as one of the Sharks’ biggest needs, and Eller would fit the bill. Although he’s 32, he has consistently thrived for the Washington Capitals as a shutdown center. He’s no slouch offensively, either, scoring 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 44 games this season.
Eller’s affordable ($3.2 million cap hit), but he might be too rich for the Capitals’ taste this offseason. Washington, even after losing a player to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, will be awfully close to the salary cap for a team that has been eliminated in the first round three consecutive years. Eller hasn’t been the problem by any means, but his contract is easily movable and could enable the Capitals recoup some draft picks.
The Caps only have 11 draft picks in the next two years, while the Sharks have 15. If San Jose starts the conversation with its 2022 second-round pick, would Washington listen? The Capitals don’t have one after the Anthony Mantha blockbuster, but convincing win-now Washington to part with a prized depth piece could require more sweetening.
The Minnesota Wild have to expose one of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen in the expansion draft, but the former’s contract ($3.67 million cap hit for two more years) and recent playoff performances (.924 over the last two postseasons) have to be appealing to the Kraken. It should be appealing to the Sharks, too, who need to upgrade on Martin Jones.
Talbot could be one of four goalies the Kraken claim, or the Wild keep him after dealing draft picks to the NHL’s newest team. Either way, the Sharks have an opportunity, as Seattle probably won’t keep all four netminders in the former case, while San Jose can help Minnesota recoup the assets required to hang on to Talbot.
No matter where Talbot is after the expansion, the Sharks should ensure he knows the way to San Jose not long after. He’d be an immediate improvement in net, while allowing young goalies Josef Korenar and Alexei Melnichuk to gain additional experience in the minor leagues.
Unlike the other players on this list, the Sharks wouldn’t have to trade for the Edmonton Oilers center this summer, as the former No. 1 pick is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But without clearing out major salary, which is easier said than done given the amount of trade and movement protection on San Jose’s roster, the Sharks can’t get into a bidding war for Nugent-Hopkins.
Of course, Nugent-Hopkins might not get the term or salary he’s looking for this offseason. During free agency last fall, few forwards signed for longer than three years, and few teams’ cap situations have improved since then.
The Sharks need depth down the middle, and Nugent-Hopkins — who has scored no fewer than 18 goals in all but one of his 82-game NHL seasons — would immediately bolster San Jose at center behind Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. Could San Jose, with over $11 million in cap space before the expansion draft, offer Nugent-Hopkins a short-term deal at a higher cap hit?
The 28-year-old could get paid while waiting for the market to normalize, and the Sharks would add a player who’d improve their roster and/or could be traded at the deadline if San Jose spends another season in the cellar. Depending on Nugent-Hopkins’ market, that could be best for both parties.