It’s only fitting that the San Jose Sharks would lose their second-best forward to a season-ending knee injury on a completely innocuous play, a little more than three weeks after they lost their best forward to a long-term ankle injury on another seemingly innocuous play. It’s been that kind of season for the Sharks. That sound you hear from northern California is the Sharks’ Stanley Cup window officially being slammed shut.
The loss of Tomas Hertl to a knee injury isn’t devastating to the Sharks only because they’re already one of the league’s worst offensive teams and can ill afford to lose a player who can create at least a modicum of offense. Or because he’s a great guy to have around, always smiling and optimistic, two features that were on full display during all-star weekend, where he scored five goals to help the Pacific Division win the tournament. (Also where he should have been named MVP. Had that happened, he at least would have had a new car to drive around during his rehab.)
Actually, what makes this injury so devastating is that, with Couture out of the lineup for likely another three-to-four weeks, there are now no illusions that the Sharks will go on any kind of a run that will bring them anywhere near the playoffs. That much has already been apparent for some time, particularly with the goaltending the Sharks have been receiving of late, but any notion the Sharks might rally has to be quashed. And the problem with that is they’ll likely fall further in the standings, which would normally be a good thing, but is disastrous for the Sharks since the Ottawa Senators own their first-round pick.
When Senators GM Pierre Dorion orchestrated the Erik Karlsson trade in September 2018, not much was thought of the clause that transferred the first-round pick from 2019 to 2020 if the Sharks made the playoffs last season. Most people thought that with Karlsson in the lineup, the Sharks would be contenders both years. But the decision to move that pick to 2020 is looking like a great one for the Senators. The Sharks were also without their first-round pick in 2019. They traded away their first-rounder from 2017, Josh Norris, in the Karlsson trade, which means defenseman Ryan Merkley is the only first-round pick in San Jose’s possession from the past four drafts. By the time Sharks GM Doug Wilson made the Karlsson deal, he knew full well he would be without a first-rounder in 2019 and 2020.
Wilson mortgaged the future in a big way in order to win a Stanley Cup. You can’t blame him. After getting to the final in 2017, the Sharks dealt for both Evander Kane and Karlsson and signed them to long-term contracts. Nobody ever thought the Senators would win the Karlsson deal this soon and nobody saw the decline of the Sharks coming this quickly. As a result, the Sharks have few prospects, few picks and are entering a bit of salary-cap hell, the same way the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks did, but without the banners, of course. But it was not for a lack of trying. However, Wilson is now facing the reality of his free-trading cowboy ways.
So now what happens as the Sharks approach the deadline? Well, the players on their roster are either too needed, untradeable or not likely to fetch much in return. There is defenseman Brenden Dillon, who is facing unrestricted free agency this summer and could get the Sharks perhaps a second-round pick and middle-tier prospect. Melker Karlsson is also a potential UFA, but he’s having a miserable year offensively, so he won’t be worth much.
The Sharks really have nobody else to move at the deadline other than Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. The latter has a full no-move clause in his contract. There have been rumors that the Boston Bruins might be interested in a Thornton reunion tour. The Bruins are already incredibly deep at center and Thornton might not be interested in being a bit player on a Stanley Cup contending team. Clearly, acquiring Thornton just to give him a chance to win a Cup is not a good enough reason because these things rarely work. The Bruins did that with Jaromir Jagr in 2013 and while they did get to the Stanley Cup final that year, Jagr was nothing more than a spare part and scored no goals in 22 playoff games.
Marleau might be a little more intriguing in that he still has the foot speed to keep up with the pace in the playoffs and might be able to play on a team’s fourth line. And he exactly fits the profile of a player who might do nothing more in the playoffs than win you a series with an overtime goal in a deciding game. That might be worth a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Marleau does not have a no-move or no-trade, but in reality he doesn’t really need one. If he were traded and didn’t want to go, he could simply retire.
Without their two best forwards, the Sharks will undoubtedly be sellers at the trade deadline, but there’s not a lot that other teams will want. The Sharks being in this situation is not a total shock, but it is surprising that it happened this quickly.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.