22 May 19
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ST. LOUIS — Joe Thornton wasn’t about to make any declarations about his future immediately after the Sharks lost the Western Conference Final to the St. Louis Blues. It’s possible, too, that no announcement will be forthcoming when the Sharks hold exit interviews later this week.
No, Thornton, and general manager Doug Wilson, it seems, may need a bit of time to help figure out what’s next.
A Sharks season that started with candid talk about winning the Stanley Cup will end with what could be one of the most turbulent summers in recent memory. Thornton is among seven Sharks players who are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, with four more players entering restricted free agency.
In one form or another, change is coming.
“Every year. I mean, you get used to the unfortunate part of the business,” said center Logan Couture, who will be one of the team’s cornerstones for years to come, on Tuesday night. “You play with guys for eight months. Every day, you got a schedule, you come to the rink, you see the guys, go on the road, and then it comes to an abrupt end.
“You don’t know what to do with yourself, then changes are made.”
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Among the players who may depart are captain Joe Pavelski, defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Gus Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi. Soon-to-be RFA’s Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are coming off their entry-level contracts and at least in Meier’s case, will likely be due for a significant pay raise.
Pavelski is coming off a 38-goal season, tied for second-most in his 13-year NHL career. He’s been the captain for four seasons, as coach Pete DeBoer referred to he and Thornton as the “heartbeat of this team.” DeBoer and Wilson both said during the season that Pavelski can be an effective NHL player for years to come.
Thornton, who had 51 points in 73 games this season, will turn 40 on July 2, and Pavelski will turn 35 just nine days later. There has also reportedly been little dialogue between the Sharks and Pavelski’s camp regarding a new contract up until this point. The Sharks may want Pavelski back, but the cost, and particularly the term of a new deal, may be sticking points.
A new deal for Karlsson also figures to be complex.
When the Sharks first acquired Karlsson, it almost seemed assured that the two-time Norris Trophy winner’s next contract would be in the range of what Los Angeles Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty received — eight years and $88 million. The Sharks, unless they trade exclusive negotiation rights, are the only team that can offer Karlsson an eight-year pact. Other teams, after July 1, can only offer seven-year deals.
But Karlsson’s health issues this season could make teams wary about committing that amount of money. The upper limit of the NHL’s salary cap is projected to be around $83 million for next season, and a deal with an average annual value of $11 million would take up over 13 percent of that in the first season. Per CapFriendly, the Sharks already have over $58 million in contracts committed to 15 players for next season.
Karlsson missed 27 of the Sharks’ final 33 regular season games with groin and leg injuries, but still had 45 points in 53 games. He played the first 19 playoff games at far less than full strength and still had 16 points.
He can be a difference-maker of the highest order when he’s healthy. The Sharks just wished they would have seen more of the type of player he could be.
SAN JOSE, CA – May 11: San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson (65) clears the puck against St. Louis Blues’ Tyler Bozak (21) as Sharks goaltender Martin Jones (31) looks on in the first period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, May 11, 2019. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
“Maybe the best defenseman in the world, or in that conversation,” DeBoer said of Karlsson. “We had him healthy for six weeks and dialed in. The first two months of the season, he was getting used to us, two and a half, I thought he got dialed … and we were maybe the best team in the league in that stretch. And then he wasn’t healthy again.”
The Sharks should be able to bring back Donskoi, 27, if they so choose at a reasonable price. He is coming off a two-year deal worth $3.8 million.
Nyquist, 29, is coming off a career season with 60 points in 81 games between the Sharks and Red Wings. Reportedly, before he was traded to the Sharks, he was seeking a deal upward of $5 million per season. Once Meier’s new deal is done, and if Karlsson and Pavelski re-sign, there may not be much room left over for a new deal for Nyquist.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]One way or another, the Sharks will look different next season.
“Some of the guys you may not see until you play them the next season,” Couture said. “So it’s the worst part of playing in this league. There are many positives. That’s probably the biggest negative. But we expect there are going to be changes and right now it’s just too early to think about it.”