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Joe Will on Why Kahkonen Excites Sharks, What’s Going on With Barabanov

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Credit: AP Photo/Ashley Landis

After a busy NHL Trade Deadline day for the San Jose Sharks, Acting GM Joe Will gave a brief press conference to discuss the recent roster moves, the Sharks’ reasons for trading Cogliano and Middleton, and injury updates. 

Will began the press conference discussing Jake Middleton’s trade to the Minnesota Wild, and the context surrounding why it was a difficult choice to make. 

“I do want to start with a thank you to Jake Middleton and to re-emphasize his story. He was a player who was the last-round draft pick of a deep team and he wasn’t signed. So he came to us on a tryout and he played well on the American league contract and went and played well on that [AHL] Western Conference team we had a few years ago and ended up earning an NHL contract. He spent lots of time learning everything else in the American League and he worked his way up to the Sharks, and within the Sharks’ room, he became a very valuable member of our team. It’s like the cosmic hockey story. Everybody here, as an organization, every single person on the staff and players thinks the world of Midds, and [we] just want to thank him for what he’s done. He’ll be missed.

“We went into this deadline not going out and shopping per se, but he was a player that teams wanted at the deadline, so we listened – there were there quite a few toes in the water here with different things and I really wanted something, that, number one, was a targeted position for us and number two, that it’s not necessarily too far out into the future so that moving forward we don’t take too much of a step back.

“If you line up Kaapo and Jake side by side, they’re both same ages and the same experience – they’re both up and coming at their positions. You guys have all seen the issues we’ve had at times with injuries within goaltending. Our defense depth actually started with the first COVID outbreak we had when we recalled Ryan Merkley, Nic Meloche, and Jaycob Megna –  we found that the [defensive] depth was very good and at times when we’re all healthy, [we have] eight to nine, quality, NHL-type defensemen. And so that’s one position where we have some strength, [but] we don’t have that [same] depth of goaltending. And that’s what really drove our decision.

“[Adin Hill] is defined as day-to-day. It’s nothing serious. It’s more of a chronic type of thing that [he’s] trying to get over a hump with, so with that, you don’t want to make something worse by trying to rush it. We’re giving it the time it needs… It doesn’t do us any good to try and push them into playing. If we’re in a playoff situation, you look at different measures. But on this sheet, you certainly don’t want to take a step back – you want it to heal right and be 100%. It’s a matter of days to a few weeks.” 

With so much goaltending depth now, Will was asked if the Sharks would roll with three NHL goalies this season. He said no.

 “That hasn’t happened since January. Since January, we’ve had basically one of our big two [Hill and James Reimer] out consistently, and that goes back to the depth here. But the other thing about Kahkonen is that it wasn’t anything just to address injuries, it’s really about looking forward. We had an opportunity to acquire a 25-year-old up-and-coming goaltender that we looked at quite extensively through the expansion last year, looking at Talbot and Kahkonen. We’re looking at all these opportunities…and so we looked at the market extensively, [but] we weren’t really able to do anything at that point in time. We’ve kept our eye on him and now had an opportunity to acquire him.”

Will spoke on where the San Jose Sharks are are with negotiations with Alex Barabanov’s camp.

“I have been in contact with the agent. We have until July 13 to sign him. He’s an important part of our team. He’s scored well this year. So we’re just playing out the process. He hasn’t played a lot of games in his NHL career and we’ll gather even more information over the next quarter” Will said. “We’ve been kicking tires with the agent for a little bit here – there’s no hurry on our part. We want to keep this team going, we’re not looking just to unload players, we’re looking to have a direction.”

Will gave insight into what players that teams were inquiring the Sharks on, who ended up not being moved. 

“Teams called for Bonino…If you took everything, it’s just a big web – you have conversations where you get into a lot of players with a lot of teams. The Middleton one specifically was our most serious by far – the rest were kicking tires on different things.

“We moved Andrew Cogliano, who I’d like to really thank as well, he’s a consummate Pro. He’s moving on to Colorado…I talked to him, he’s bittersweet, he really did enjoy his experience here.

“But, you know, he has the opportunity now to compete on one of the top contenders in the league and go and get a Stanley Cup, and he’s on an expiring contract. So that’s one player, we can get a fifth-round pick and replenish that grid in that particular year.”

How about retaining salary for picks, like they did last year?

“I talked to about three or four teams, then their trades blew up. We’re a willing party, [and] we know what the market is…I felt [that] we were at a good spot.”

Will also explained the back-up at Central Registry which caused some trades to be announced hours after the noon PT Deadline.

“There are so many pieces to trade. It’s not just agreeing to some of the return as far as picks and players go, it’s really just a matching up of cash. So it drags out on the deals. And, deals are more complicated from a league position when teams are [using] LTIR and right at the cap and so they have a lot of checking to do. So they [the league] do a great job at doing that.

“And I really want to give a shout-out to the staff too. We had a war room going today and it was led by Assistant GM Tim Burke and his staff of Doug Wilson Jr. Neil McKinney and Chris Boucher were in there working today.”

Will gave insight into whether or not Anthony Bitetto would join the team in Calgary. 

“He’s not, he’s probably coming in tomorrow. But with the injuries to Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knyzhov, and then with Middleton going out – he’s [Bitetto] played almost 200 NHL games, so he’ll have some good depth for us. Plus, he’s on a two-way contract, and already he was an assistant captain in Hartford. He’ll come in, and he’ll be good in the Barracuda, and then he’ll be ready to come up if need be. I don’t know if we have all the assignments out, we’re catching up on things like that, but Ryan Merkley is going on this trip.”

Will also gave updates on Jonathan Dahlen and Matt Nieto. 

“On Dahlen, we dodged a bullet. They did a CT scan and I believe it was pretty clear as far as a traumatic injury. They’re looking to see for broken bones and structural damage and things like that…they’re talking a matter of days rather than weeks in that case, and Matt Nieto is not going to make the trip. But he’s still listed as game-to-game – he had a laceration, so we’re just waiting for that to heal up. So those are short-term.

“Updates on the other guys – Kevin Labanc has rehabbed really well and it’s just a matter of getting that final sign-off from the doc and the rehab people on that. So that’s getting closer every day on Labanc coming back.

“Knyzhov said he’s in a pretty good spot. He went through a lot, and right now is he’s just focusing on his latest surgery, a second surgery, which is classified as a relatively minor procedure. So if everything goes well with that we’ll see when we could get him on the ice. There’s no timetable, but we’re working on that.

“And Mario Ferraro, you see him right now, he’s walking around. It looks like he could be on a dance floor right now. So he looks great. But you know, he needs to heal. So it’s not anything imminent with him, but he’s doing fine with his rehab.”

Joe Will ended the press conference discussing what the Sharks like about Kaapo Kahkonen, and getting him to Calgary to meet the team. 

“He follows a puck extremely well. When we go slow motion, frame-by-frame, we see how ready he is for shots, how he can get across laterally and be ready for shots. That’s one thing that really stands out. He’s got speed and awareness in that regard. He also has a level of experience that we’ve liked – he’s got winning, accolades, and statistical achievements at every level.

At 25 years old, he’s ascended properly at a nice scale and nice consistency throughout his career. He had a couple of solid years in Minnesota and so it was just an opportunity for us to get him. And Nabokov, you know, signed off [on him] amongst many others that we collaborated with. Nabokov is excited to have him in the fold and work with him.”

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