We’re continuing to break down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, coming up next week: which players are eligible, and which will likely warrant protection or may be on the block. Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4pm CDT on June 17th. The full rules on eligibility can be found here, and CapFriendly has provided a handy expansion tool to make your own lists.
The San Jose Sharks took an expected step backwards this season after an impressive display in 2015-16 saw them reach Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The team is certainly at a crossroads, with long-time leaders Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton hitting unrestricted free agency. They were ousted quite easily in the first round by the upstart Edmonton Oilers, and GM Doug Wilson will look to craft a strategy that will put them back in contention for a title.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
The Sharks are looking to infuse some youth into their lineup next season, and they are hopeful that one of the poor-performing vets in Mikkel Boedker or Joel Ward will be the only loss to expansion. Unfortunately for them, it seems unlikely that the Golden Knights are looking to acquire many greybeards. A huge debate, at least from the outside, is whether they will opt to protect 8 skaters and one goalie, or the more popular 7F/3D/1G setup. San Jose has done quite well to build a stable group of defensemen, but they do have some forwards they’d prefer not to sacrifice.
On offense, there are three locks to be protected, at the least. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are the offensive leaders of this team and are both in the primes of their careers. Tomas Hertl has amazing creativity and flare, and will only improve as he just turned 23. Melker Karlsson seems the next safest bet, as he has displayed great defensive play and versatility. He is the team’s swiss-army knife, and has too much value to sacrifice. The remaining group of forwards that would be exposed if San Jose opts to go the 4F/4D/1G route would be thus: Mikkel Boedker, Joel Ward, Jannik Hansen, Chris Tierney. Losing one of Hansen or Tierney would be irritating, but surmountable.
On defense, Brent Burns is a dominant offensive force from the blueline – he led the league in points from the blueline. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic takes the bulk of quality competition and has been a rock defensively. Justin Braun didn’t have the most phenomenal year, but he is an integral piece of the team going forward. This leaves Paul Martin, David Schlemko, Mico Mueller, and Brenden Dillon all exposed – with one of the group nearly certain to be lost. Martin has been a top-pairing guy for a decade, and his loss would be significant. Vegas’ has stated the goal of starting young and could certainly pass over the 36 year-old. It’s a sizable risk, but it certainly seems a possible scenario that he remains untouched. Dillon hasn’t performed well enough to warrant protection over the other two D-men. He had a much better possession season this year (53.0 Corsi For %) than last (49.3% CF), but his offensive impact is truly minimal. He also sees bottom-pairing minutes and a lower quality of competition than Schlemko.
Of the remaining two, Schlemko is clearly the better player at this moment. Schlemko had a great possession year (54.6% CF)and has been a positive influence on every team he’s played. Protecting Schlemko would serve to provide insurance if Martin were for some reason claimed. There is a marginal case to protect the younger Muelller, as he is only 22 and could serve as a cheap option on the blueline for the next few years. He did only played 4 NHL games last year, and impressed no one, but as a recent first-rounder Vegas could jump on the opportunity. The organization does seem low on him, so he could easily find himself on the outs.
In net, Martin Jones will obviously be the protected asset. The team just re-signed backup Troy Grosenick, but with the plethora of available goalies Vegas can choose from, he’s entirely safe.
Although there are plenty of no-trade clauses (NTCs) on the roster, there are no players who require protection due to an NMC. Additionally, the Sharks will benefit heavily from their foresight (and/or luck) with having Thornton and Marleau both turning UFA this particular off-season. Vegas could theoretically “claim” either, but it wouldn’t do anything other than give the Knights a head start on potential contract negotiations. With those two older players relatively safe, the organization will focus on protecting others who will contribute to their chances in the near future. Schlemko had a solid year and will be playing long after Martin is retired, and that will likely be the tie-breaker.
Projected Protection List
F Joe Pavelski
F Logan Couture
F Tomas Hertl
F Melker Karlsson
D Brent Burns
D Marc-Edouard Vlasic
D Justin Braun
D David Schlemko
G Martin Jones
By all indication, the Sharks are trying to compete again next year. I fully expect them to sign at least one of Marleau and Thornton and to make another strong push in the Pacific before going complete re-build. Burns is still a top defenseman, and with a solid re-tooling of the bottom-six, it’s not an inconceivable goal. Schlemko is not too far behind Martin in terms of performance, and could see his role improved. They are flirting with moving him for assets, which wouldn’t be the worst decision if they then protected Martin. One of the two has to be there to round out the top-four on defense.
As for Vegas, they could go with a semi-“proven” commodity in the speedy Boedker, fill out the roster with the solid but unremarkable Tierney, take a risk on an unproven talent like Mueller, or go the safest route and employ the aged Martin to guide the youngsters along. They will have options, but no loss the Sharks couldn’t endure.