When discussing the San Jose Sharks and the trade deadline, usually the focus is put on pending unrestricted free agent Tomas Hertl. While the Sharks continue to try and sign Hertl to a long-term deal instead of making him available for trade, it’s easy to forget that there are several other names on the roster that could draw interest as March 21 approaches.
An under-the-radar name for the San Jose Sharks that is garnering interest: defenseman Jake Middleton, who has partnered with both Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns at times this year. He’s part of that penalty killing crew that ranks second in the NHL, he’s an RFA at the end of the year, he’s making only $725K. He’s a bit of an oldschool, physical brand that teams heading to the playoffs like to stash on their roster. Among the teams that have kicked tires I’m told, are Tampa Bay, Boston, and St. Louis.
Middleton, 26, is actually making $750K this season of course but carries a cap hit of just $725K. He’s also one of the many players that could become a Group VI unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, should he fail to play in another 20 games before the end of the year. That certainly could complicate trade talks, as the Sharks have just six games before the trade deadline. Any acquiring team would have to know that he can’t be added as a press box depth piece with the expectation that he’ll be around as an RFA; he needs to play in order to retain that status.
Still, it’s easy to see why some teams would be interested in the 6’3″ defenseman. Not only does his cap hit come in lower than the league minimum salary, meaning he’d fit into the financial situation for basically every team in the league–whoever he was replacing on the roster would make at least as much as him, likely more–but he’s also stepped into a fairly substantial role in San Jose as they dealt with so many injuries on defense. Having never played more than 10 NHL games in a season before this year, he’s suited up 39 times and averages nearly 19 minutes a night. Just this week, he logged more than 25 minutes in an overtime loss against the Anaheim Ducks, blocking seven shots in the process.
With the Sharks falling completely out of the race with a poor last couple of weeks, the team will likely try to sell off any expiring pieces. If Middleton doesn’t figure prominently into their future plans–or, alternatively if they’re worried he won’t reach that games played threshold as Karlsson and others prepare to return–a trade would seem like the prudent move.