Many have felt for some time now that the San Jose Sharks could be a team to watch in the upcoming off-season. It’s not often that a team can have the depth and talent of a contender with almost all of their key players locked up and also have an immense amount of cap space, but that is the exact situation that the Sharks are facing this summer. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all elite players under contract, while reliable pieces like Mikkel Boedker, Justin Braun, and Brenden Dillon have term remaining as well. Yet, the Sharks will still enter the off-season with nearly $15MM in cap space and few holes to fill. For that reason, some have speculated that John Tavares or John Carlson could be headed for San Jose or that the team could load up on other second-tier top free agents.
However, the Sharks are actually somewhat limited in what they can do this summer. A side effect of having so many players locked up is that San Jose actually has little flexibility in terms of straightforward roster management on the free agent market. The Sharks have just nine free agents total, unrestricted and restricted, far and away the fewest in the league as most teams generally have about twenty. Entering the off-season, they will already have 38 of their 50 maximum contracts already in place for next season. Assuming that key restricted free agents like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Dylan DeMelo return, that number is already up to 41. It is almost fortunate that top prospects Josh Norris, Scott Reedy, and Mario Ferraro all chose to return to their college teams or that number would be even higher.
Regardless, the Sharks will be left with less than ten slots to add new players unless they start to trade away or buyout existing contracts. If long-time leader and fan favorite Joe Thornton re-signs, there is one less. If deadline addition Evander Kane, who has fit in very well in San Jose, decides to stay put, there’s another one. If the Sharks land a player worth immediate ice time at #21 in the first round of the NHL Draft, that’s yet another spot filled up. No team wants to enter the season with so few contract slots that their hands are tied when the opportunity to make a trade to improve the roster comes around. San Jose also doesn’t want to sign too many multi-year deals with players like Couture, Pavelski, Timo Meier, and Joakim Ryan in need of extensions next season as well.
As such, the Sharks actually seem likely to make only one or two free agent additions this summer – as they did last summer – unless major trades open up some more space in the organization. Could one of those additions be a Tavares or a Carlson? Sure, but if those players choose to go elsewhere, San Jose instead seems far likely to stick with what they have and go into next season with flexibility. Don’t expect the drastically different Sharks roster that some have predicted – it may only lead to a letdown of expectations this summer.