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Decision Day for Hertl?

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Credit: AP Photo/Tony Avelar

What was Tomas Hertl to make of perhaps his last home game as a member of the San Jose Sharks?

On Sunday, Pierre LeBrun reported that the Sharks were hoping that the impending UFA would come to a decision about his future in San Jose by Wednesday or Thursday. Hertl wouldn’t confirm an internal deadline before the Mar. 21 Trade Deadline when we spoke with him on Monday.

Status Quo Between Hertl, Sharks With Trade Deadline a Week Away

LeBrun believes “the Sharks will end up going to a place contract-wise that’s going to be pretty close to where Hertl needs it to be.” The Sharks still aren’t taking offers on Hertl, and “as of Sunday, remained confident things were headed in the right direction and they could get Hertl signed.”

But does the 28-year-old truly believe in the direction of the franchise, headed to three years and running out of the playoffs? Hertl’s decision will seemingly come down to that question.

Tuesday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Florida Panthers gave Hertl a peek into what should excite him about a future with the San Jose Sharks – and what should terrify him.

Joe Thornton

The San Jose Sharks paid homage to Joe Thornton, making his first trip to SAP Center since his departure after the 2019-20 campaign, with an emotional tribute video:

GOTTA SEE IT: Sharks’ Tribute Video to Thornton

It was a fitting nod to the 15 years that Jumbo gave the franchise.

Tomas Hertl has the opportunity to step into those shoes and be the next Mr. Shark, the next Thornton, Patrick Marleau, or Joe Pavelski, if he so chooses. Every player dreams of starring for one franchise for his entire career – Hertl might be able to do that if he signs on the dotted line this week.

But Hertl also doesn’t want to spend eight years losing. Whatever you want to say about Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski’s playoff results, their San Jose Sharks squads were constant contenders.

Hertl has cited 40-somethings Thornton and Marleau regularly since the summer, as examples of how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup.

“For sure, you’re looking for the place where you can win the most,” Hertl acknowledged over the summer. “Some guys never play in the playoffs. I can’t even imagine because it’s the best of all hockey.”

Hertl Looking for a Reason To Believe?

At least Thornton and Marleau didn’t waste three years of their prime on a middling, lottery-bound team. They can say that virtually every year when they were at their best, they were playing on teams truly in the hunt.

Of course, you can’t blame Hertl for how the Sharks have fallen apart since the 2019 Western Conference Finals – individually, he’s been good, it’s the team around him.

But now, the pending UFA is in charge of his own destiny.

If he wants a better chance to win right now – he can.

Erik Karlsson

Minutes into Tuesday’s game, a scout told me he was impressed by how good Erik Karlsson had been.

Karlsson has been excellent since his return last Thursday from left forearm surgery:

How Does Karlsson Transform Sharks — Could That Sway Hertl?

There are moments when the 31-year-old Karlsson still looks like the game-changing two-time Norris Trophy winner. There’s no doubt that Tomas Hertl would be thrilled to play with that version of Karlsson, signed until 2027, for the next eight years.

But there have also been far too many moments since Karlsson’s arrival in San Jose in Sept. 2018 where he’s been injured or offered middling play.

So which Karlsson will Hertl get if he commits to San Jose? I don’t think there’s anybody who can really say.

32-4

At 5-on-5, the San Jose Sharks were out-attempted 32-4 by the Florida Panthers in the third period. So for every eight Panthers’ shot attempts, the Sharks got one.

Let that sink in.

This isn’t exactly an anomaly between the 26-25-8 Sharks and the 41-13-6 Panthers this season. Granted, 32-4 is particularly lopsided. But in the five other full periods that San Jose and Florida have squared off, the Panthers have out-attempted the Sharks 113-56.

Corsi is not a be-all, end-all stat, by any stretch – but suffice to say, San Jose is far from being Florida-good.

For the Panthers, fourth-liner Frank Vatrano notched both the tying and game-winning goals. That’s Frank Vatrano, he of 58 goals in the previous three seasons.

That’s a pretty good team that can bury Vatrano on a fourth line, and he still contributes. For the Sharks, that’s what, being able to justify Jonathan Dahlen’s presence on the fourth line on a nightly basis?

San Jose is far from achieving that type of Cup contender-depth again.

So for all the bright spots from tonight – Karlsson’s early pop, Logan Couture’s continued strong play, James Reimer’s rock-solid return, the Sharks snatching a point from the Eastern Conference-leading Panthers – it must be easy for Tomas Hertl to see greener pastures (or faster ice or bigger nets) on the other side of San Jose.

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