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Would Johnny Gaudreau Be a Good Fit in San Jose?

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Credit: mark6mauno (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This much we know: Doug Wilson loves trading for depressed assets.

For a variety of reasons, stars like Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane, and Joe Thornton found their way to San Jose for quarters on the dollar.

On Friday, Eric Francis of Sportsnet reported that Johnny Gaudreau had “likely played his last game as a Calgary Flame.” He also added: “There is no chance Gaudreau would re-sign in Calgary when his contract expires in the summer of 2022, which means he needs to be dealt well before then.”

Gaudreau also has a modified no-trade clause that kicks in 2021-22, the last year of his current deal, which will limit Calgary to five trade destinations of the winger’s choice.

So if the Flames are indeed done with Johnny Hockey, it would make a lot of sense for them to deal him at least before the next Trade Deadline.

So where do the San Jose Sharks fit in?

• Gaudreau could still be an elite talent. He’s just 27, and despite suffering an inconsistent season, is only a year removed from a Hart Trophy-caliber campaign — in fact, I voted him third in 2018-19, behind Sidney Crosby and Nikita Kucherov. Tallying all the votes, he finished fourth.

A scout shared: “He was inconsistent but certainly can be a game-changer when he’s on. Hit or miss for me in my viewings this year.”

• Gaudreau fills a team need. There’s no doubt that the 5-foot-9 winger could inject a ton of skill and creativity into San Jose’s 27th-ranked offense, 23rd-ranked power play, and generally underwhelming forward depth.

• Gaudreau can be just another guy with the Sharks. In Calgary, Johnny Hockey was a superstar, the face of the francise. In San Jose, he’ll be able to walk around the city unrecognized and take off his equipment without hassle while reporters chase the likes of Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and captain Logan Couture. The potential returns of legends Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could provide even more cover.

• Gaudreau’s cap hit is reasonable. At $6.75 million per for the next two seasons, he’ll be far more affordable than say, pending UFA Taylor Hall. While the cap-strapped San Jose Sharks will struggle to fit even 6.75, it’s more plausible than again, Hall. I’ll circle back to this later.

• Gaudreau could be acquired for relatively cheap. According to Francis, Calgary has soured on Gaudreau because of back-to-back poor playoff showings: “In a flat cap world it’s going to be hard enough to swap out Gaudreau for any meaningful return, let alone a man making $6.75 million.”

Here’s a hypothetical: Last summer, if Doug Wilson offered, say, Timo Meier — signed for four more years at $6 million dollars per — straight up for Gaudreau, he would’ve been laughed out of the room. Now? It sounds like Calgary would take that and run.

This is where the San Jose Sharks don’t fit:

• The Sharks are in the same division as the Flames. Would Brad Treliving trade his star within the Pacific? It’s one thing trading James Neal to Edmonton, a franchise face could be another story.

• There might be more going on behind the scenes. Sure, Gaudreau has had consecutive tough post-seasons and endured an underwhelming 2019-20 — but he just turned 27 and is a proven point-per-game playmaker. Even with a flat cap, $6.75 million was not a wild overpay for his 2019-20 and was a bargain in 2018-19. So what gives?

• Would Gaudreau stay in San Jose? I’d imagine the Sharks, if interested, would trade for the winger with an eye toward keeping him after 2022. The New Jersey native himself has said it “would be sweet” to play closer to home.

For what it’s worth, Gaudreau pushed back both on that 2017 declaration and Francis’s report during his exit interview today, saying of Calgary: “It’s a team I could see myself playing for for the remainder of my career, and I’ve always said that. I know a lot of people have speculations of me wanting to go back east. But I just feel really comfortable where I’m at with the teammates there, the coaching staff, with Brad, the management team, and the owners.”

• San Jose has a lot of holes — is it really possible to fit Gaudreau’s $6.75 million cap hit? It appears so — if a number of (reasonable) hypotheticals fall in place. This is assuming the acquisition of Gaudreau without parting with a Meier or a Kevin Labanc — it’s tight, but doable. Alexander True and Noah Gregor, who are still on their ELCs, can be shuttled back and forth between the AHL:

2020-21 San Jose Sharks?

FORWARDSCAP HIT
Couture, Logan8,000,000
Kane, Evander7,000,000
Meier, Timo6,000,000
Hertl, Tomas5,625,000
Sörensen, Marcus1,500,000
Gambrell, Dylan700,000
Gaudreau, Johnny6,750,000
Labanc, Kevin3,000,000
Marleau, Patrick1,000,000
Thornton, Joe1,000,000
Noesen, Stefan800,000
Kellman, Joel750,000
TOTAL42,125,000
DEFENSE
Karlsson, Erik11,500,000
Burns, Brent8,000,000
Vlasic, Marc-Édouard7,000,000
Simek, Radim2,250,000
Heed, Tim1,000,000
Ferraro, Mario925,000
TOTAL30,675,000
GOALIES
Jones, Martin5,750,000
Greiss, Thomas2,500,000
TOTAL8,250,000
SAN JOSE SHARKS
TOTAL81,050,000
SALARY CAP CEILING81,500,000

Granted, for San Jose, acquiring a Gaudreau might make for another top-heavy piece for an already top-heavy group — but we know Doug Wilson always has his eye out for special talent. Gaudreau fits the bill and at a discount.

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Jackson Edward

I’ve been talking about gettin’ Johnny Hockey for a while now! I mean, CGY does owe us “Future Considerations” for the Brandon Davidson trade… Right??

david barnard

so, we want a guy who possibly wants to hide in SJ at that price point? i’ve been critical of the Sharks laissez faire locker room and this guy seems like just another contributor to that culture. we should be looking to sign lions! he’s not a big game player either. take a look at his playoff record, it’s not good. Goodrow and M.Karlsson contribute better 5v5 TP/60 rates over the last 3 seasons combined. he’s a PP specialist-he jumps from 0.28 to 1.72 TP/60 on the PP in the playoffs. he won’t help the Sharks get any tougher for… Read more »

david barnard

for as much as Jumbo has done to get the various Sharks teams to the playoffs, neither he nor PM ever carried their teams to a SC win, like you see with other talent in their tiers. LC has been the best playoff performer iirc in the history of the org. you could argue that the team never had enough talent around Jumbo, so teams could focus on him, but then i’d argue that the Jumbo-Heatley-PM line was 1 of the best in the league and they got stopped by a strong CHI team. i think it’s something that not… Read more »

david barnard

was this “discount” referring to the assets in trade or on his contract? because i don’t see CGY retaining any. also, i’m not sure i want another player with movement protection considering teams have to honor them in trade now.

david barnard

sorry SP, i don’t consider a 2nd liner at 6.75M AAV a “good deal”. a top line player has to be good all over the ice, and JG just isn’t that. also, not a leader. he gets you points in the regular season where the game is called a lot tighter, but he’s not built for playoff hockey. i feel like DW and the Sharks have been going down this path for far too long, so maybe he’s a good fit for an org that wants to put butts in the seats…oh wait, Covid pretty much kills that idea.

Anita

Unless SJ can get rid of one of those ugly contracts, I just don’t see this happening.

San Jose Sharks

What’s Doug Wilson Doing with Sharks Forwards?

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Credit: flrent (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If the San Jose Sharks are done this off-season, they’re not going to look remarkably different up front next year.

I don’t mean in terms of names and faces. San Jose legend Joe Thornton going to Toronto is change enough. Meanwhile, long-time penalty killer Melker Karlsson is also gone.

I mean in terms of proven NHL ability.

In October 2019, the San Jose Sharks had, by my count, 10 NHL-proven forwards:

  • Logan Couture
  • Evander Kane
  • Timo Meier
  • Tomas Hertl
  • Kevin Labanc
  • Marcus Sorensen
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Joe Thornton
  • Melker Karlsson
  • Barclay Goodrow

The 2019-20 Sharks finished last in the Western Conference.

One year later, San Jose has…wait for it…10 NHL-proven forwards:

  • Logan Couture
  • Evander Kane
  • Timo Meier
  • Tomas Hertl
  • Kevin Labanc
  • Marcus Sorensen
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Stefan Noesen
  • Ryan Donato
  • Matt Nieto

Of course, it’s not simply about quantity, it’s also about quality. Assuming Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl, Labanc, Sorensen, and Marleau at least hold serve — a big if considering the 41-year-old Marleau’s advanced age — we’re weighing Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow.

Safe to say, neither trio is to be mistaken for the Legion of Doom.

Donato has second-line upside but was a fourth-liner on an average Minnesota squad. On youth and upside, I’ll give him the edge over the 41-year-old Thornton, who is a question mark as a potential third-line center with the Maple Leafs.

Colorado leaned on Nieto on the PK as much as San Jose relied on Karlsson there. Nieto also adds an element of a speed and perhaps a touch more offense, so the Long Beach native should be a small upgrade.

Goodrow and Noesen isn’t really a comparison. Goodrow has proven to be an ace penalty killer and a Stanley Cup-caliber role player — Noesen, up to this point in his career, is a fourth-liner who hasn’t displayed any special teams value. While both are ultimately bottom-six forwards, Goodrow is clearly the more valuable NHL player right now.

So is Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow perhaps a wash? It’s close either way. Anyway, this isn’t point: The point is, right now, are the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks appreciably better at forward than the 2019-20 version?

I’m not convinced.

I haven’t forgotten about Joel Kellman, Noah Gregor, Dylan Gambrell, or Antti Suomela, but I don’t consider any of them NHL-proven. Gregor may also be the only forward in this group who has legitimate middle-six upside.

Fredrik Handemark, John Leonard, Lean Bergmann, Alexander True, Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski, and Jayden Halbgewachs should also be in the mix, but they’re all huge question marks at the NHL level because of their inexperience. None of these forwards are blue-chippers either.

So here’s the question that San Jose Sharks fans are rightly asking: What’s Doug Wilson doing?

The Sharks have about $3 million dollars in cap space. It’s the stingiest free agent market in recent memory, meaning bargains a-plenty.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Carl Soderberg, Erik Haula, Josh Leivo, Dominik Kahun, and Conor Sheary are among the cost-friendly middle-six UFA forwards still available.

Last summer, San Jose made the mistake of heading into the season relying on too many unproven forwards. Besides Bergmann and Gambrell, Peter DeBoer was forced to dress Danil Yurtaykin and Lukas Radil on opening night.

“Looking back,” Wilson admitted last week, “maybe I didn’t have enough depth and competition last year, early in the season.”

By March, Gambrell was the only NHL regular of the aforementioned group.

And granted, last off-season, the Sharks didn’t boast significant cap space, it wasn’t a buyer’s market, and Kane was suspended for the first three games of the season.

That’s not the case here: It’s a buyer’s market and San Jose has money to spend.

Wilson, however, countered yesterday: “Would it be nice to add some things? We probably have to re-establish certain areas of our game and earn some things to be added.”

That sounds like Wilson is planning to start the 2020-21 season with this forward group as is.

He also added, of 2019-20’s rotating cast of young forwards: “We have some guys who had a taste last year, they’re now going to be a year older. So we think they’re ready to compete.”

Wilson isn’t wrong here and should know his internal assets better than anybody else. A lot can change in a year. But he also burned credibility last season with his reliance on in-house help that didn’t help.

Okay, so we’re at least two-and-a-half months away from the start of the season. There’s still plenty of time for Wilson to add to his forward group and at a reasonable price. We should be careful about taking the GM’s public statements at face value.

But right now?

Safe to say, there are more questions than answers in this San Jose Sharks’ line-up.

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Locked On Sharks

Let’s Get Sad About Joe Thornton Leaving San Jose

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Joe Thornton

Kyle, Erik, and JD are very sad. We talk about Joe Thornton’s signing with Toronto, where we were when we heard the news, and how we spent the weekend coping with the news. We look at his signature moments on and off the ice with the San Jose Sharks, including his famous four-goal quote (15:00), punching Petr Mrázek (21:30), and his fellowship with the boys (23:15). Check out the podcast on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

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San Jose Sharks

Joe Thornton Lost the Faith — Doug Wilson Hasn’t

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Doug Wilson was a little wrong.

In this morning’s press conference to discuss Joe Thornton signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he said the San Jose Sharks were second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in wins and points since Jumbo’s first game in teal on December 2, 2005.

While San Jose is indeed second in victories — they have one less than Pittsburgh’s 660 — the Sharks have the most points (1,443), regulation wins (531), and regulation-overtime wins (589) in the NHL since Thornton’s arrival to then-HP Pavilion. They’re also tied for the best power play (20.9%) and have scored the fourth-most goals in the league.

And yes, all those points and goals didn’t amount to a Stanley Cup — but it’s just one way to underscore Thornton’s impact on the San Jose Sharks franchise.

Here’s another way.

“There’s probably very few players in all sports that could alter a franchise in the way he has,” Wilson said. “Even more than the numbers, he set a culture of professionalism, an unmatched love for the game of hockey. He really helped solidify, I think, the city of San Jose as a true hockey town.”

Of course, Wilson deserves just as much credit for that, from agreeing to suit up for the expansion San Jose Sharks after a distinguished playing career in Chicago, to acquiring Thornton as Sharks general manager.

But here’s something that Wilson might be very wrong about: Is San Jose still a playoff team?

Wilson asserted last week: “Do I think this is a playoff team with this roster? Yes, I do.”

Joe Thornton had his doubts, otherwise he would’ve come back.

Wilson acknowledged as much: “[Toronto] had a better year than we did last year. That’s a fair and honest evaluation with where it sits today.

“Joe, at 41, is looking at where the runaway left is and the opportunity. I fully understand that.”

It’s not as if Wilson didn’t try to keep his franchise icon. But Wilson — understandably after years of doing so — wasn’t willing to push all his chips into the middle of table anymore with this current San Jose Sharks roster.

“Joe and I have a very open, honest relationship. I shared with him the things that we were doing,” Wilson noted, before revealing, “we weren’t going to…in this year’s draft, we ended up drafting nine forwards. We needed to rejuvenate and replenish our system. I wasn’t really in a position to move, potentially, our first-round pick next year.”

It’s fair to say the San Jose Sharks are out of the “all-in” game, and Thornton could see that. The additions of Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Donato, Matt Nieto, and Marleau didn’t move the needle enough for somebody who’s declared “I’m a Shark” on multiple occasions. Even last February, Jumbo was already pining for greener pastures.

“I need to win a Stanley Cup,” the 41-year-old acknowledged on a Zoom call this morning.

Joe Thornton: “I need to win a Stanley Cup.”

Wilson tried to accommodate Thornton’s wish during the most recent Trade Deadline: “Joe and I were working on it together, but there just wasn’t a match. There wasn’t a team that he wanted to go be a part of or a team that needed a centerman or that type of fit. We worked together on that just as I did with Patty Marleau. We just couldn’t get a match.”

So what are the San Jose Sharks, if they aren’t “all-in” anymore? They’re still trying to win, of course — but they’ll have to do it with a jumbo-sized hole in their line-up and in their hearts.

“You don’t replace the love of the game, the passion and the energy that he brings. It’s up to everybody else who saw what he did, how he lived his life, emulate that and bring it to the table so we can re-establish our game and our team,” Wilson said of Thornton. “You have to have a whole leadership group. It’s on a whole group of players. It’s not a one-person leadership mentality.”

Wilson expressed faith in a group that honestly, Thornton looks to have lost some belief in.

“We as an organization have gone through this a couple times before in the past and we’ve bounced back very quickly,” Wilson pointed out, hearkening back to a disastrous 2002-03 season that segued into the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals berth the next year and a up-and-down 2014-15 campaign that led to a 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance. The San Jose GM added: “When Patty went to Toronto [in 2017], you had players like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow, Tomas Hertl step up and evolve their game.”

So who’s going to rise to the occasion for the Sharks next year?

Wilson pointed to the team’s younger veterans: “Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, it’s their time. They need to step up to the next level.”

Besides Hertl, Meier, and Labanc, he referenced captain Logan Couture and Evander Kane: “We’ve got five top-six forwards.”

He added, talking about Joel Kellman, Fredrik Handemark, Dylan Gambrell, and other pivots who have never played regular top-nine NHL minutes: “I’ve got eight or nine centermen to vie and fight for those two spots [at third and fourth-line center].

Wilson has spoken consistently about “Our best players needing to be our best players” all off-season — and there’s no doubt that he’s addressing Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.

“I like our defense,” Wilson noted. “I want to leave a spot open for some competition for some of the younger guys.”

He’s also hoping for more out of the Gambrells, Joachim Blichfelds, and Noah Gregors on his squad: “We have some guys who had a taste last year, they’re now going to be a year older. So we think they’re ready to compete.”

The San Jose Sharks have about $3 million dollars in cap space right now. They’re missing an NHL-proven top-six forward, an entire third line, and a bottom-pairing defenseman. They still have time — will they take advantage of the stingiest free agent market in recent memory? Or will they pretty much stand pat?

Thornton, it seems, has made up of his mind on that score. Wilson, as usual, wasn’t tipping his hand to us.

“Would it be nice to add some things?” Wilson mused. “We probably have to re-establish certain areas of our game and earn some things to be added. We certainly have that flexibility to do that.”

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