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Pending UFA Kahkonen Wants To Be Wanted

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Kaapo Kahkonen knows all too well about dealing with the Trade Deadline.

After all, it was a deadline day trade from the Minnesota Wild which brought him to the San Jose Sharks in the first place in 2022.

Two years later, with the Sharks sitting at the bottom of the league, the pending UFA could be on the move again.

“I try not to think about it. Everybody knows their own contract situation, obviously,” the 27-year-old said, “but I think it’s still about showing up to work every day and trying to be as good as you can and play as well as you can.

“That’s really the players’ job, and then I think the contract talks and all that stuff, that’s obviously the GM’s and the agents’. So, I try not to think about it, because if you start doing that, it’s just an endless road. You start overthinking and it’s not good, especially if your goal is to try to keep things simple and focus on the next game.”

As far as Kahkonen has heard, his agent Robert Hooper has not spoken to Sharks general manager Mike Grier about a contract extension or a trade just yet. But he’s certainly open to setting down roots in San Jose.

As for now, his sights are set on continuing to build his game and earning a role as a full-time No. 1 goaltender, whether it comes in San Jose or somewhere else.

He has been working towards that since becoming a Shark, when the Wild traded him shortly after they acquired Marc-Andre Fleury.

Kahkonen impressed in San Jose after the trade, going 2-6-1 with a .916 Save % in 10 starts. That off-season, he signed a two-year contract with a $2.75 million AAV, and was poised to be the Sharks’ goalie of the future, especially with partner James Reimer pushing his mid-30’s.

Kahkonen couldn’t continue that success into 2022-23, however, falling to an .883 Save %, along with a 9-20-7 record.

This season has been a bit of a bounceback for Kahkonen with an .899 Save % and a 5-13-1 record, which doesn’t look great on paper, but is solid considering he’s playing behind arguably the worst defensive team in the NHL. That’s supported by his positive Goals Saved Above Expected, +2.15, per Evolving Hockey. In comparison, last year, Kahkonen had the third-worst GSAx in the league, -21.19.

Kahkonen has formed an effective duo with Mackenzie Blackwood. Like Kahkonen, Blackwood’s .894 Save % and 5-17-3 record aren’t sparkling, but he’s also managed a positive GSAx, +0.66.

“I want to be a No. 1, and I think everybody wants to, but some years, in some situations, teams like to have two guys that are playing well,” Kahkonen said. “It can be a strength for a team, for sure, and I think it has to be for us.”

It has to be, for sure. The San Jose Sharks allow the most shots in the NHL with 35.4 per game, and per SPORTLOGiQ, they surrender 18.9 High-Danger Chances a game, second-worst in the league. So it’s remarkable that both Kahkonen and Blackwood are enjoying positive GSAx figures.

It sounds like while Kahkonen, naturally, would like to be the top dog somewhere, if that opportunity doesn’t afford itself, he’d be happy to continue in a duo with Blackwood, who he’s formed a friendship with.

Blackwood is signed for one more year after this season at a $2.35 million AAV.

“It’s been really good with [Blackwood] this year, but it’s obviously my goal in my career to be a No. 1 goalie and play as much as I can,” Kahkonen said. “As for signing an extension, honestly, anytime you feel wanted somewhere, I’ve always liked that feeling because I know that, hey, this team wanted me, these people wanted me here, so I respect that and I appreciate that.

“I think it’s good for the player. You’re getting more out of yourself when you have that obvious belief.”

REPORT: Teams Interested in Trading for Kahkonen?

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