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Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 4: Some Time Left

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda

Welcome back to our deep dive into the San Jose Sharks system! 

If you haven’t seen the other installments of this series, check them out here:

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 1: Introduction

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 2: Time’s Up

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 3: Last Chance

Part 1 covered key terms and standards used in this series like NHLe and DY. Part 2 covered players who very likely will never become NHL’ers, like Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby. Part 3 looked at a number of skaters who have one more season to make a big impression like Jonathan Dahlen, Thomas Gregoire, Jayden Halbgewachs,Nikolai Knyzhov, Maxim Letunov, Scott Reedy, and Danil Yurtaykin.

Today in Part 4, we examine a few players who aren’t technically behind the development curve given their draft round or how many years have elapsed since their draft season. As a result, there’s still time for these players to surprise, but each is missing part of the trifecta of a clean bill of health, high-end skills, or scoring progression. 

Remember, we’re going to get to 33 San Jose Sharks prospects — we’re inching our way closer to the players with a clear path to the NHL. 

Zachary Gallant – C

The Red Wings drafted Gallant in the third round of the 2017 draft. After a disappointing D+1 season and not quite the rebound they’d hoped for, the organization decided to let Gallant’s rights expire. 

San Jose took a chance on the center, signing him to an entry-level deal in 2019 after a disappointing season in the OHL. The organization’s gamble paid off somewhat as the 20-year-old finished his final season in junior hockey with 65 points in 59 games, the equivalent of a 22-point NHL season. 

Zachary Gallant of the San Jose Sharks

In a 2017 McKeen’s Hockey profile of the forward, Scott Crawford serenades us with a sour-sounding song made up of such descriptors as “decent,” “above average,” “frustrating,” and “capable.” These aren’t exactly the superlatives of a player who will break a statistical mold to become an NHLer. 

Gallant will begin his D+4 season whenever AHL hockey resumes. About 58.5 percent of third-round skaters who ever play an NHL game do so by the end of their D+4 season. It’s hard to imagine a “decent” junior hockey player comes out of nowhere to outperform the rest of his minor-hockey peers and earn a professional appearance this coming season, which will put him officially behind the curve. 

Even if we recognize that Gallant improved during his final OHL outing, it was likely too little too late. Based on his yearly scoring rates to date, he has about a 14 percent chance of becoming an NHL regular, a number that is probably too high given what we know about him.

Vladislav Kotkov – W

Kotkov is a favorite of mine. I noticed his statistical profile during the lead-up to the entry draft and was excited to learn the Sharks invited him to the 2018 development camp. The organization signed him to an entry-level deal toward the end of the event. 

The 6’4” winger scored 51 points in 67 draft-year QMJHL games, the equivalent of about 13 NHL points. But he had a strong impact on his team’s even-strength scoring network, suggesting there was more to him than his point totals. Since then he’s posted NHLes of 16 and 15.5, a stagnation that does not portend an NHL future. 

Vladislav Kotkov San Jose Sharks

According to Pick224.com, Kotkov also received just the eighth-most estimated minutes of ice time among Chicoutimi forwards despite being the fourth-oldest forward.

Despite the lack of scoring progression and ice time, Kotkov’s scouting reports do paint an intriguing picture. He has a prized combination of size and speed along with “the vision to be an effective playmaker.” Others have noted his ability to stickhandle through traffic. It’s unfortunate that these traits haven’t translated to more points, even if scoring production isn’t everything. 

Because Kotkov signed his entry-level deal as an 18-year-old his contract will slide. This means the Sharks will own his rights up through his D+6 season if he does not play 10 or more NHL games next season. Kotkov has time to make an impression, and there are some positive signs in scouts’ perceptions of his game. He will have to show his stagnant junior hockey scoring rates are not indicative of a lack of growth if he is to buck historical trends. 

Jake McGrew – RW

As Sheng Peng noted, the Sharks had clearly been following McGrew for some time even before his draft season. The forward missed his entire age-17/18 season due to injury, and the Sharks claimed him with a sixth-round pick in the 2017 draft. After two slow seasons post-injury, McGrew came out of the gates quickly to open the 2019-20 season. 

The San Jose organization must be enamored with its perception of McGrew, because it signed him to an ELC in June 2018. By the time the ink was dry, the Sharks had seen the young forward play just one WHL season that was fairly average statistically. 

Unfortunately, another season-ending injury curtailed his 20-year-old campaign after he had posted eight points in just six WHL games. Because it’s difficult to suss much out of just two full seasons, we can turn to scouting reports to see what it is the winger does that catches Doug Wilson Jr.’s eye.

Bill Placzek of Draftsite.com writes that McGrew is a, “dynamic weapon with a tremendous shot, great instincts and great speed” who controls the puck well but needs to add strength. Steve Kournianos of TheDraftAnalyst.com was intrigued by McGrew’s speed and finishing skills.

A draft hobbyist on Reddit built a model that parses scouting reports—namely, scouting reports from Draftsite.com—to determine if a player is of NHL quality or not. The model is pretty confident McGrew has what it takes to be an NHLer, at least if Placzek’s evaluation is accurate. 

Jake McGrew San Jose Sharks

Just a sixth-round pick, McGrew has all the time in the world to play his first NHL game. Of the sixth-round forwards and defensemen who eventually play in the NHL, just 51.5 percent of them play their first game by the end of their D+4 seasons. Even if McGrew fails to clear that benchmark, he’ll be right where we’d expect him to be given his draft position. 

There appears to be a talented forward with speed here who hasn’t fallen behind the curve yet. But we’ve seen what two major injuries can do to a player’s progression, so we know McGrew is fighting an uphill battle as he not only rehabs but also tries to rise to the top of the San Jose Barracuda depth chart in his first professional season. 

McGrew will need to stay healthy all season and score about half-a-point per game next year if I am going to entertain the idea that that scouting report captures the forward’s true essence. Of all the players in this tier, he seems the most likely to eventually see NHL time. Based on his two full WHL seasons, he has a fighter’s chance (29%) to be an NHL regular, according to Byron Bader’s research. That’s still not much better than the chances of an average draft pick.

Kyle Topping – C

Kyle Topping is no stranger to the Sharks organization. He appeared at the team’s 2018 training camp, though he left camp without a contract. The 20-year-old center spent his entire junior career with the Kelowna Rockets where he has been a point-per-game player since his age-18 season. 

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the forward signed to an AHL deal. He’s only in this tier and not one of the two below because he’ll begin his age-20/21 season in the fall. This gives him a season or two to impress with the Barracuda and earn an NHL contract, which isn’t completely fair to rule out right now. 

Kyle Topping San Jose Sharks

Topping probably should have been drafted. More than 2,000 forwards have played more than 25 games their draft year in the CHL. According to Pick224.com, Topping’s rate of even-strength primary points scored per game was in the top 20 percent of those players. Since then, his production has stagnated, a fact that is particularly frustrating for a player older than most of his age-group peers. 

The center is entering his D+3 season on an AHL deal. He still has a year or two to surprise at the AHL level and earn an entry-level deal. His lack of scoring improvement suggests that’s an unlikely timeline for the soon-to-be 21-year-old.

Stay tuned for future installments of this series. As we move up the pecking order we’ll attempt to use a wider variety of graphics and tools to understand where players stand relative to historically similar cohorts.

Have a thought about any of these players? Questions? Drop us a line in the comments and let’s discuss.

Welcome to your new home for San Jose Sharks breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to SJHN+ for all of our members-only content from Sheng Peng and the National Hockey Now network.
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Jackson Edward

Ugh!! I’ve been dying for more installments of this series! I’m happy it finally dropped, can’t wait for the next.

Analytics

Which Veteran Defenseman Will Sharks Sign?

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Credit: NHL

A glance at the San Jose Sharks defensemen depth chart reveals a glaring hole.

Behind Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the right side, San Jose has Ryan Merkley, and then…

Nicolas Meloche is a 23-year-old that the Sharks acquired last summer by sending goalie Antoine Bibeau to the Avalanche. The 26-year-old goaltender is currently without a contract, if that tells you anything about Meloche’s trade value. Nick DeSimone turns 26 in November and has played as many NHL games as you or I.

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson referenced this last Friday: “You want to have a spot of competition for people. Pasichnuk signed with us. Merkley is obviously a first-round pick. [Jake Middleton] is a quality veteran who’s paid his dues. So you want them to be able to compete. But you also want to have competition.

“You don’t want to give spots away. We’ve got five NHL-quality d-men.”

So while Merkley and recently signed Brinson Pasichnuk (a lefty) offer exciting statistical profiles, it would be a major surprise if the Sharks went into the season with those two duking it out for the sixth defense spot. After the organization misevaluated its own prospects ahead of the 2019-20 season, it seems near impossible that Wilson will go into next year without a veteran defenseman in that role.

And there aren’t many veteran blueliners left on the free agent market, especially in San Jose’s price range. So who could Wilson possibly be targeting?

Wilson’s quote after signing bottom-pairing defender Dalton Prout last year may indicate the type of player he’s looking for:

“Dalton is a very smart defenseman who has shown he can move the puck cleanly under pressure and keep his turnover rates low,” said Wilson, “We believe his ability to hold the defensive zone blue line is underrated and that he is one of the best at limiting net-front rebounds by effectively using his size and stick. We’re excited to add his responsible defensive play to our blue line.”

It’s difficult to quantify that player profile.

Analyst CJ Turtoro has visualized Corey Sznajder‘s manually tracked data, which may help. Prout’s sample size of tracked data is small, so the caveat exists that these results have not stabilized yet. What the recorded data we have from the 2016 through 2018-19 seasons shows is that Prout did well when asked to break up plays at his own blueline. Among the defenders Corey tracked, Prout ranked in the 72nd percentile in terms of blueline entry attempts broken up.

Dalton Prout tracked data

The rest of his tracked data leaves something to be desired. Whatever Sznajder saw while re-watching Prout’s games, it certainly wasn’t a defenseman who “can move the puck cleanly under pressure” — and that’s not all that differed from Wilson’s assessment of the player. According to the NHL.com, Prout had one of the worst giveaway rates of all defensemen who played at least 20 games between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

So it appears the one thing we have that may help us tie Wilson’s player assessment to quantifiable information is the blueline breakup ability.

Which Available Defensemen Fit Prout’s Profile?

Armed with Doug Wilson’s quote and Dalton Prout’s micro data profile, we can peruse the remaining free agents to see who the San Jose Sharks might have a contract for. Along with being steady at the blueline, we’re probably also looking for a player with size. Wilson believed Prout was good a “limiting net-front rebounds with his size and his stick,” after all. Though the Sharks don’t necessarily need to solve their right-shot blueline conundrum now — lefty Mario Ferraro, for example, played on the right side for a lot of the year — we’ll start with right-handed UFAs.

Puckpedia, as always, is a wonderful resource for this type of research. Here are the remaining UFA right-shot defensemen, sorted by games played in 2019-20.

In a word, this list isn’t most appetizing. Alex Pietrangelo will probably have a contract by the time you read this, and he wasn’t coming to San Jose anyway. Mike Green has retired. Prout, of course, is a UFA, but as Sheng Peng noted, he’s not quite ready to join an NHL team yet:

By process of elimination, we can cut this list down to three players who may fit the Prout mold.

Jan Rutta

Jan Rutta has performed well at the blueline the last three seasons disrupting would-be entries.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound sturdy right shot played depth minutes for the recently crowned Stanley Cup champion Lightning. Though he was known for his fluid skating and ability to move the puck while playing overseas, it’s likely that the depth defender’s reach and strength are what draw NHL teams to him. Of the 285 defensemen to suit up for at least 20 games during the past two seasons, Rutta’s rate of giveaways is the 16th-best, in the event Wilson is counting. Evolving Wild’s contract model projects Rutta’s market value to be somewhere around one-year, $824,000, which is ideal given the San Jose Sharks budget.

Rutta tracking data San Jose Sharks

Yannick Weber

The 32-year-old journeyman defenseman just finished his fourth season in Nashville. He’s just 5-foot-11, but at 200 pounds, he surely passes the size muster of NHL GMs. He’s registered about one hit per game, which makes him a touch more physical than Rutta. Clearly, his one major strength is breaking up plays at his blueline. Evolving Wild’s model assigns Weber a cap hit value of $651,000, which is below the veteran minimum of $750,000, so we’ll say he’s a veteran minimum contract.

Yannick Weber tracking data San Jose Sharks

Sami Vatanen

Vatanen is here because he’s been fairly disruptive at the blueline during the past few seasons. But, at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the 29-year-old defender doesn’t quite fit the rough-and-rugged profile Wilson seems to be looking for — of course, the San Jose Sharks GM may have changed his search criteria since last offseason. Vatanen is also known more for his offensive prowess than his ability to box out forwards in front of his crease. And, there’s the pesky fact that Evolving Wild projects Vatanen’s next contract to be worth around $2 million for one season. That’s a tough sell for a team up against it.

Sami Vatanen San Jose Sharks

What About Lefties?

Because this signing doesn’t also have to fix the San Jose Sharks’ organizational depth, we can also look at lefty defensemen who still stand without a contract.

To spare you, we’ll list the players who meet the blueline disruptor criteria and whose projected contracts aren’t likely to be prohibitive to the Sharks’ pocketbook: Slater Koekkoek and Ben Hutton. Hutton and Koekkoek, like Weber and Rutta, also sport low giveaway rates, according to NHL.com’s database.

Who Will Sharks Sign?

Evolving Wild projects both Hutton and Koekkoek to be worth around $1.5 million on a one-year deal. Assume the Sharks sign Patrick Marleau to his rumored $1 million deal and Joe Thornton to a similar contract. That leaves the Sharks with about $4.7 million in cap space to sign a depth defender and add another NHL forward, while leaving some wiggle room for call-ups during the season. A $1.5 million deal for a depth defender isn’t a deal breaker. But if the Sharks are hoping one of Ryan Merkley or Brinson Pasichnuk overtake said defender, it makes sense to spend as little as possible on a signing while still bringing in a helpful player.

Using our research here and Wilson’s previous words, it seems likely that the Sharks have a candidate in mind. To understand what you’re about to see, here’s a primer:

Micah Blake McCurdy developed a model at HockeyViz to evaluate players. His model adjusts for a player’s teammates, opponents, and the score of the game, among other factors, to try to isolate as much as possible a player’s individual impact on the game. The output of his model is a heatmap that shows just what sorts of shots a player helps his team take on offense and prevent on defense. Dark red represents lots of shots for and dark blue represents a dearth of shots against. These individual outputs are paywalled, so I’m only going to share one with you, that of the player the Sharks are most likely to sign.

 

Jan Rutta San Jose Sharks Tampa Bay Lightning

Micah Blake McCurdy | Hockeyviz.com

Rutta checks plenty of boxes.

He’s big, he doesn’t give the puck away, he’s solid at breaking up zone entries, and it will probably only require a veteran minimum contract to lure him to San Jose. On top of all that, he has been a solid generator of offense in a depth role in Tampa Bay.

Rutta killed penalties for the Lightning and also played with Victor Hedman for portions of the season, which suggests the utility man can play up and down the lineup just fine. Rutta just added a Stanley Cup win to his resume, no doubt sending Wilson’s eye all a-twinkle.

The San Jose Sharks would probably be better off with someone more capable of exiting his own zone, but Rutta otherwise seems to fit both the hockey man’s ideal of a depth defenseman and the analytics nerd’s vision of a useful role player. For $800,000 or thereabouts, this deal would be too good for Wilson to pass up.

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Analytics

Cat Silverman & Cole Anderson on If Acquiring Dubnyk Is a Mistake

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Sharks trade talk, Devan Dubnyk Minnesota Wild

On the surface, the Devan Dubnyk narrative is simple.

From 2014-19, Dubnyk was a top goaltender — second only to Braden Holtby in Games Started, fifth with a .920 Save % (200-plus games played), a positive Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) in every season, third place in 2015 Vezina Trophy voting and fifth in 2017.

That would make Dubnyk’s 2019-20 — .890 Save %, -16.23 GSAA, lost the number-one job to Alex Stalock — an obvious aberration. Dubnyk’s wife also underwent serious health issues during the year.

With that in mind, who wouldn’t want to trade for Dubnyk, especially at just one year left and a $4.33 million cap hit? Naturally, the San Jose Sharks, looking to supplement Martin Jones, have been linked to Dubnyk for the better part of a week — and it looks like a deal is getting close.

Sharks Trade 3rd for Donato, Is Dubnyk Deal Next?

Digging deeper, however, advanced stats suggest that Dubnyk has had more than one bad year.

That .920 Save % from 2014-19? That positive GSAA from each season? Dubnyk was just doing what was expected.

GSAA is roughly a goaltender’s Save % versus league-average Save % — applied to the number of shots that the goaltender has faced. However, it doesn’t account for shot quality or the team in front of the goalie. So a netminder behind a strong defensive squad is less likely to face high-danger scoring chances — therefore, his Save % and GSAA will likely be better than the average.

But there’s another stat that suggests Dubnyk’s Save % and GSAA should’ve been higher — not just this year, but for the last five seasons.

Per Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), Dubnyk has allowed more goals, in all situations, than he should have for the last five years.

PlayerSeasonTeamGSAAGSAx
Devan Dubnyk14-15MIN20.5710.7
Devan Dubnyk15-16MIN6.3-3.21
Devan Dubnyk16-17MIN16.73-8.82
Devan Dubnyk17-18MIN8.98-13.76
Devan Dubnyk18-19MIN7.54-18.72
Devan Dubnyk19-20MIN-15.45-27.49

To be exact, per this model, Dubnyk surrendered 27.49 goals more than an average goaltender would’ve this year. By this measure, he was the worst keeper in the NHL this year, worst than two-win Jimmy Howard.

GSAx measures how many goals that a netminder has surrendered above or below expected, based on the shot quality faced. Public measures of shot quality are mostly based on shot location.

In translation, according to GSAx, Dubnyk has lived off a staunch Wild defense — and he hasn’t outperformed it since 2014-15.

So should the San Jose Sharks be concerned about Dubnyk’s GSAx? Is he really the right guy for a not-as-tight Sharks defense?

I asked goaltending experts Catherine Silverman and Cole Anderson their thoughts about GSAx, and what the San Jose organization might see in Dubnyk.

Goals Saved Above Expected

First, let’s get this out of the way. I’m pretty sure that the San Jose Sharks are aware of Dubnyk’s less-than-stellar numbers in this regard over the last five seasons. This (fantastic) modeling from Evolving-Hockey is based on publicly-available data and costs (well worth it) $5 a month.

Independent of each other, Silverman and Anderson agreed on one thing that might have affected Dubnyk’s GSAx.

“I’m convinced they overused him for a while there,” Silverman wrote, “and it tanked his numbers for stretches.”

Anderson offered: “It doesn’t account for how much the goalie is used.”

As noted, Dubnyk was second in the league in Games Started from 2014-19.

Let’s also talk about how GSAx measures shot quality. GSAx pulls from the league’s data. Therefore, GSAx’s account of scoring chances is mainly shot location. The closer the shot, the more dangerous it is, the farther the shot, the less dangerous it is. Nothing else: Pre-shot movement (i.e. passing), odd-man rushes, shot velocity, and traffic are among the keys to goal scoring that are not accounted for by GSAx.

Anderson countered: “GSAx is based on the output of models based on league’s data — the league provides raw data, but not the modelled or ‘insightful’ pieces. It is mainly shot location and type but also has the game state like power play, shooter, and we can also infer some time-based variables, like if the shot is a rebound, or if the shot comes seconds after an event in the neutral zone, likely off the rush.

“But what you listed is all true and the biggest missing pieces, although those aren’t as important as people might think. For example, a team will often pass to get good shot locations, or elect to use a 2-on-1 to get a shot tight to the net, so shot location is a good proxy for those things in this model.”

All that said, Anderson added of the stat: “It isn’t by itself incredibly repeatable — which is good news for Dubnyk — and the public version relies on modeling on NHL data, which is somewhat incomplete and has some issues.”

He suggested of the league’s data: “It’s possible Minnesota specifically might have recorded shots further from the net which would make Dubnyk’s job look easier than it was in reality in half his games.”

Now all this doesn’t account for Dubnyk’s lost 2019-20 campaign — and once again, the 34-year-old netminder had plenty of reasons to not have focus — but they might prop up the more marginal results from 2015-19.

What Might San Jose Sharks See in Dubnyk?

Silverman pointed out that Adam Francilia, a Sharks goaltending consultant, has worked with Dubnyk for years. Nabokov authorized Francilia to work with Aaron Dell this year.

As Pierre LeBrun noted, San Jose wants to make sure that Dubnyk is comfortable with moving to West Coast, considering his wife’s health problems — and giving Dubnyk the chance to work more with Francilia could certainly be a lure. You want guys who want to play for you.

Doug Wilson also spelled out what he was looking for in a new goaltender on Friday: “Ideally — and it depends on what the cost is, the acquisition cost — is getting a guy who’s been a number-one, that’s a veteran, who wants to come in and compete for a spot.”

Wilson Spells Out What Sharks Are Looking for in Goal Next Year

This sounds like Dubnyk — and not like Aaron Dell, for example.

So Dubnyk is a good fit for the Sharks goaltending depth chart, which at the moment, reads Martin Jones, then…21-year-old prospect Alexei Melnichuk?

“I’m not yet convinced that Melnichuk is ready for the big leagues and I don’t think anyone is,” Silverman said, “but in theory, they’re hoping that he’ll be ready sooner rather than later and would want a stopgap who has worked with Francilia before.”

But why Dubnyk in particular? The jury is still out on that and it will be fascinating to pick Wilson and Nabokov’s brains on the subject when the time comes.

“[Dubnyk] obviously has size and can manage the game a little deeper in the crease. Goaltender results can be heavily influenced by their environment — like any position, really — so if Nabokov or the rest of the staff like the skill-set, I am certainly open-minded,” Anderson conjectured. “Jones and Dell specifically were more aggressive than average, which may not have been a good fit for San Jose.”

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Analytics

How Much Do Sharks Value Kevin Labanc?

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Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks
Credit: NHL

Last Saturday, we spoke with professional salary cap consultant Idriss Bouhmouch about what RFA Kevin Labanc’s new contract with the San Jose Sharks might look like:

A Salary Cap Consultant’s Thoughts on Labanc’s Next Contract

This morning on the Locked On Sharks podcast, I shared some further thoughts about Labanc:

Is Kevin Labanc More Than a Support Player?

Let’s expand on what I talked about with Kyle, Erik, and JD this morning.

Labanc & Meier

Last summer, both Labanc and Timo Meier were coming off career seasons. Neither had arbitration rights.

Meier, the 2015 first-round pick, was rewarded with a four-year, $24 million dollar contract. Meanwhile, Labanc, the 2014 sixth-round pick, shocked observers by agreeing to a one-year, $1 millon dollar deal.

But while everybody, understandably, focused on Labanc’s record-setting low contract, in my mind, it also threw in sharp relief how the San Jose Sharks see both players.

Essentially, Meier is seen as a franchise cornerstone, while Labanc…not so much, at least not yet.

Even after a 56-point campaign and elite power play production, Labanc was given a show-me contract.

On today’s podcast, we got into the question, is Labanc seen as a franchise cornerstone or a support player?

Last year’s contract, I think, answered that, and it’s an open question whether or not Labanc’s 2019-20 performance changed anybody’s mind. Personally, I don’t think so.

Labanc’s Comps

That said, Labanc does have arbitration rights this off-season, so he will receive a sizeable raise.

So what have similar RFA wingers made?

With that in mind, I used these guidelines to ferret out some comps:

* Wingers who are offensive specialists, with little to no Short-handed usage
* 1 year or less removed from expiration of ELC when new contract signed
* Have arbitration rights
* Durability and usage

Since 2019, there are six comps:

PLAYERAGETEAMYEARGPGA PTOIDATE SIGNEDLENGTHVALUECAP HIT
Kevin Labanc24SJS2019-207014193316:04????
Robby Fabbri24DET2019-206115173217:168/24/2025,900,0002,950,000
Pavel Buchnevich24NYR2018-196421173815:107/26/1926,500,0003,250,000
Alex Iafallo25LAK2018-198215183316:507/10/1924,850,0002,425,000
Danton Heinen24BOS2018-197711233413:587/9/1925,600,0002,800,000
Andreas Johnsson24TOR2018-197323204313:406/28/19413,600,0003,400,000
Frank Vatrano24FLA2018-198124153914:402/23/1937,600,0002,533,333

It’s worth noting that of this bunch, only Labanc and Robby Fabbri are PP1 regulars, which should make them more valuable. On the flipside, however, for Labanc — this year, his 3.19 Power Play Points Per 60 was 97th of 119 forwards (150+ PP minutes).

These parameters also eliminate a comp like recently-signed Oskar Lindblom, a PP/PK forward who agreed to a three-year, $9 million dollar agreement last month.

So it looks like we’ve established a rough $2.5-$3.5 million dollar per season range for Labanc.

The Case For & Against Labanc

So who has the leverage in this round of the San Jose Sharks and Kevin Labanc’s contract negotiations?

We’ve already discussed Labanc’s arbitration rights. That’s huge.

On one hand, you can’t ignore what’s going on in the world. It’s believed by some that there will be a squeeze on the middle-class player because of pandemic-related revenue uncertainty.

On the other hand, California’s high personal income tax rates may work against the Sharks, suggesting they may have to pay a small premium.

There’s also, as mentioned, Labanc’s heavy power play, zero short-handed usage. He’s seen as an offensive specialist, which doesn’t help his value. And he didn’t exactly kill it in that specialty this year, team struggles withstanding, scoring a full season career-low 33 points despite two minutes extra ice time per game.

But on the other hand — it’s hard to score 40, 56, then 33 points in the NHL. As an aside, like Labanc, Fabbri (37 points in 2015-16), Buchenvich (43 points in 2017-18), and Heinen (47 points in 2017-18) had a scoring track record before the RFA seasons in question.

Also in Labanc’s favor is his team-leading 55.3 5-on-5 Shot Attempts Percentage (SAT%, or Corsi For %) this year. This advanced stat, because it’s recognized on NHL.com (as opposed to say Expected Goals or Micah McCurdy’s models) can be used in arbitration — so perhaps Labanc’s agent can use it to counter the winger’s nightmarish -33. That robust SAT% suggests that Labanc is driving play though the results weren’t there.

Labanc’s durability is also underrated: Over the last three years, he hasn’t missed any games because of injury.

Next, let’s consider opportunity cost, or, if the Sharks sign Labanc, do they have in-house alternatives instead of signing Labanc? On Labanc’s side of the ledger is that San Jose’s weakest position appears to be up front, as they don’t have a lot of clear NHL top-nine talent in the big leagues or the farm.

How about in free agency? This also works in Labanc’s favor.

Looking at potential UFAs, let’s grant that Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman, and Evgeni Dadonov are more productive (but far more expensive) options than Labanc, arguably first-liners. Hall will probably be too pricy for the cap-strapped Sharks, while Hoffman is a non-starter because of his well-documented personal issues with Erik Karlsson. Dadonov is a possible candidate.

Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, and Erik Haula, among others, make up the next class as middle-six forward targets. Essentially, there’s not a lot out there.

So if we’re being honest about the Sharks’ depth up front, it would probably behoove them to sign Labanc, whatever his flaws, and take a shot at younger, potentially undervalued reclamation projects like Granlund or Haula, guys who may outperform their cap hits.

My guess is the San Jose Sharks still aren’t sure what Labanc is to them — whether he’s essential or dispensable moving forward. I think they need to sign and keep him because of the team’s shallow depth up front, but I’m curious if he’ll be in San Jose for the long run. This will probably be reflected in his new contract: I suspect it’ll be a short-term deal for an offensive specialist.

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