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Sharks Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is With Hertl, but Was It Wise?

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Tomas Hertl, NHL trade, San Jose Sharks
Credit: Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire

LOS ANGELES — The San Jose Sharks said they weren’t re-building, and they proved it this afternoon by re-signing pending UFA Tomas Hertl to an eight-year, $65.1 million dollar contract.

Here are my first thoughts – I’ll have plenty more in the coming days and weeks.

CONTRACT

It’s a fair deal for both Tomas Hertl and the San Jose Sharks.

For the 28-year-old, he gets the maximum contract that he was likely to receive this summer from another suitor, with that extra year that only the Sharks could’ve offered.

For the Sharks, Hertl falls between Sean Couturier’s $7.75 million dollar and Mika Zibanejad’s $8.5 million AAV. While he’s not necessarily better than Couturier, he’s well within range of that caliber of first-line center. San Jose paid a small premium for their inability to lock up Hertl this past summer, when Couturier re-signed. Naturally, as we get closer to the free agency period – and coupled with Hertl’s strong contract year campaign – rates were going to rise a little.

Projecting Hertl’s Next Contract

SALARY CAP

The Sharks’ financial commitment to their core is staggering. They have $48.64 million committed to six players, Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Timo Meier next year.

Right now, that’s the fourth-largest 2022-23 commitment to six players in the league, with only Toronto ($53.63 million to Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Jake Muzzin), Tampa Bay ($51.63 million to Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh), and the Rangers ($49.81 million to Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba, Chris Kreider, Igor Shesterkin) ahead.

Of course, Toronto, Tampa Bay, and New York’s cores are younger, better, and headed to the playoffs. San Jose’s core is headed for its third straight season out of the post-season.

But for what it’s worth, every player in the Sharks’ core, save for Vlasic, is still playing at a very high level. So you can still win with them — the Sharks will just have to use the $34 million (or more if they buy out a Vlasic) that they have left in cap space very, very wisely. They’ve added top-nine forwards like Alexander Barabanov, Jonathan Dahlen, and Rudolfs Balcers on the cheap over the last few years, and they’ll need to keep doing that to make up for the continued, inevitable decline of their veteran core.

FREE AGENCY

The San Jose Sharks have been really quiet in free agency over the last two off-seasons, but I wonder if that will change a little.

The commitment to Hertl puts more pressure on the front office to put NHL-caliber pieces around Hertl and company immediately.

We’re not sure what money the Sharks will have available come July, but I bet they’ll spend a little more than they have in the past two off-seasons, albeit still carefully.

TIMO MEIER

Tomas Hertl’s oft-linemate is just 25 and enjoying a career season, earning his first All-Star Game appearance.

However, he’s an RFA after next season with a qualifying offer of $10 million.

Before we put the cart before the horse, it’s incumbent on Meier to finish this season strong and show next year that he can play at an elite level consistently.

Assuming he does that, trust that the San Jose Sharks will find a way to fit his next contract in.

LONG-TERM WORRIES

Yes, it’s another eight-year contract on San Jose’s books – and to a player that’s had knee surgery on both knees – and twice on his right knee.

To Tomas Hertl’s credit though, he’s come back strong from each surgery and doesn’t appear to be any less a player because of them.

However, will we be able to say this when a 36-year-old Hertl is at the end of his contract? Of course not. Hertl will endure some age-related decline.

But it’s hard to say if he’s a magnet for injuries or has just had some bad luck – and how hard his 30’s will hit him.

It’s something to worry about, but there have been cases of guys who were hurt a good amount in their 20’s and were able to mostly avoid the injury bug in their 30’s. Hall of Famer Rob Blake, off the top of my head.

QUICK THOUGHTS

Tomas Hertl is such a positive on-the-ice and off-the-ice force, you don’t want to dislike this deal.

But there are just so many more risks attached to this contract than even the norm for the standard, hair-raising maximum contract: Hertl’s penchant for knee injuries, the Sharks’ already-dire cap situation, running back a core that’s about to miss the playoffs for three straight years.

In my mind, the Sharks aren’t in the competitive position as an organization to make this kind of investment in a 28-year-old player — but obviously, Doug Wilson, Joe Will, and company disagree.

This deal can work – and the San Jose Sharks can win with Hertl and his new contract – but it’s the more unlikely path to success than commencing with a re-build and dealing Hertl at the Trade Deadline.

San Jose, literally, has once again put their money where their mouth is. You have to give owner Hasso Plattner credit for that. After almost three years of puttering around, replenishing and resetting but not re-building, the Sharks are going for it again.

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