After a dismal showing during the 2019-20 season, the San Jose Sharks must use this offseason effectively. General manager Doug Wilson will look to use this time to improve his team. After a down year from players like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, they will need to show that their play has truly not taken a step back. There are three aspects of the organization, where if the right pieces are brought in, the Sharks can succeed.
Young Talent Needs
The 2020 NHL Draft
The Sharks don’t have their own first-round pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft. That belongs to Ottawa who now holds both the second and third-best odds to win the draft lottery. Wilson did his best to get back into the first round by working some magic. He traded Barclay Goodrow to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for the Bolts 2020 first-round selection. With top picks, like Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield being highly regarded, it stings to know that the team could’ve had a top-five pick had they not traded a first-round pick in the Erik Karlsson trade.
Merkley and Blichfeld
In early February, The Athletic published the NHL’s team prospect pool rankings with the Sharks way down in 25th place. By no means does the team have no prospects, but their overall farm system is not one to be admired. (from ‘Pronman: 2019-20 NHL farm system rankings,’ The Athletic, 09/05/2019)
Ryan Merkley and Joachim Blichfeld are the team’s top prospects. That is not a debate. Although Merkley has had some attitude issues in the past he has shown growth, but now the Sharks need him to grow his play as well. When it comes to Blichfeld the Sharks were pleasantly surprised. Scoring 32 points in 44 games for the Barracuda this season, Blichfeld showed his offensive skill-set.
With $26.5 million in cap space devoted to three defensemen, Wilson will need to look to help his offense. Going into the offseason the Sharks will have just over $14 million in cap space to play with. With the expectation that ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton will return to San Jose next season, he shouldn’t take up too much room on the cap. That is also not to mention Kevin Labanc, who is a restricted free agent. After taking a team discount, Labanc did not live up to his expectations by only scoring 33 points.
Melker Karlsson is another unrestricted free agent that the Sharks will need to make a decision on. Karlsson is a fourth line player and although he can provide in the defensive end, this could be the spot where the Sharks could save some money on the market. Last but not least is the goaltending. Martin Jones is locked up but Aaron Dell is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Sharks don’t have a true top goalie prospect and because of that, they should sign Dell back to be in a timeshare with Jones. Dell showed flashes last season on being able to produce in net. Here are a few options for the Sharks to consider on the free-agent market.
The former one-hour Shark might be a good player for the Sharks to bring in this free agency period. Back in 2018, the Sharks traded for Hoffman but he was quickly flipped to the Florida Panthers. Given the personal history between Hoffman and Erik Karlsson, this might not work out. Stricly looking at Hoffman on the ice, however, the Sharks would be adding a consistent 30-goal scorer and power play threat.
A lethal one-timer from the right circle would provide the power play with a much needed quick shot option. In recent years the Sharks haven’t had a one-time threat on the power play. Hoffman finished this season with 29 goals and 11 of them by way of the power play. During the 2018-19 season, Hoffman had 36 goals with 17 on the power play. The Sharks ranked 23rd in the NHL in power play percentage this past season.
This signing would be an interesting one due to the question marks that Vesey would bring. The former Hobey Baker Award winner has yet to really find his footing in the NHL and given that, the Sharks would be able to save money while taking a flyer on him. He has shown that he can put up some numbers at times and is a great defensive forward, however, the Sharks would need him to bring more than defense.
The 27-year-old has not scored more than 35 points in a single season, and although that is concerning, Vesey has come close to 20 goals every year of his career except for this past season when he only had nine. If the Sharks are to sign Vesey with the hopes of improvement they would need Vesey to score 40 points and put up 20 goals. If Vesey is able to do that, the Sharks will have a cheap, effective two way forward.
After his trade to the Nashville Predators, Granlund struggled to get comfortable until the end of this season. Showing that he still had the offensive ability he had for the Minnesota Wild, he can be a useful two-way forward. Prior to the All-star break, he had just 16 points in 41 games.
After the All-star break, Granlund had 14 points in just 22 games. He fits the Sharks mold of forwards due to his defensive awareness. Because he is a viable option both at center and on the wing, he can be used in all situations that the Sharks would need a forward.
The Head Coaching Job
Although Wilson has said that current interim Head Coach Bob Boughner has an “upper-hand” on keeping the head coaching position, he is not guaranteed that position. Given the fact that some highly regarded coaches are available on the market, Wilson must do his due diligence on finding the right coach for the squad.
Although he might be a bit pricey, Laviolette has the experience and ability to turn this Sharks team around. He brought the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final back in 2010 as well as Nashville in 2017. He has shown that he can help the development of players regardless of their age. He helped shape Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi.
The power play struggles that he had in Nashville may continue but with the offensive firepower of Burns and Karlsson, this is the time for him to break that trend. He also will provide a much needed defensive structure for the team and force players to make sure they play a full 200-foot game.
After his reputation was somewhat tarnished with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Babcock has something the Sharks desperately need, structure. For the last two seasons, the Sharks defensive structure has been abysmal and they are among the leaders in high danger chances given up. Yes, the Sharks will need their goalies to bail them out every now and again but giving up as many chances as they already do doesn’t help. With Babcock at the helm, ice time will be leveled out amongst everyone.
Babcock will also show no favoritism between star players and role players if a mistake is made. For players like Burns and Karlsson that points directly to them. Under Boughner and Pete Deboer, Burns and Karlsson were playing a ton and whenever they made a mistake they were not disciplined because the team relied too heavily on them. Babcock will bring a change to that narrative.
In order for the Sharks to have a successful offseason, these three aspects should be what Wilson focuses on. He has shown time and time again that he can get this team out of the rough and back into cup contention. This offseason does feel a little different due to the shortened season but he could be using this time to really get a close look into what his team needs are.