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How Much Do Sharks Value Kevin Labanc?



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:

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 (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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