Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at San Jose.
The Sharks’ offense is going to look radically different in five years and the beginning of that change will actually happen in 2019-20. A ton of prospects will be fighting for spots in the coming weeks and while a career is not made in one autumn, it never hurts to get ahead. San Jose fans will start to get more familiar with the Chmelevskis and Blichfelds soon, with the only exception being Leonard, who is still in college with UMass. There will still be veterans, but don’t be surprised if new captain Couture is playing more of a shutdown role in five years – he will be 35, after all. Barclay Goodrow is another option if not enough kids are ready for prime time.
San Jose will still have three of their most famous D-men in five years (they’re all under contract long-term), but a new crop of puckmovers is coming up and Karlsson, Burns and Vlasic will be excellent partners for the kids. Merkley is the biggest X-factor, as his controversial personality has led to a rocky junior career – but the Sharks do have the kind of experienced dressing room that could steer him onto the right path. Then you’re left with an incredibly exciting offensive defenseman.
While he takes a lot of flak in the hockey world, Jones is the guy in San Jose and the team’s leadership core believes in him. Management clearly feels the same, as the starter is signed to a long-term contract that runs until the summer of 2024. So five years from now could be pivotal for the Sharks, as they decide whether or not to re-up Jones one more time. There are several options in the system to snatch that No. 1 role in the coming years, with Korenar boasting a lot of potential. But Andrew Shortridge and Zach Emond are also in the mix, so it won’t be a coronation.
Overall, this is a very intriguing Sharks lineup. The veterans who make up today’s core won’t have to play as much as they do now as a wave of youngsters find their way into prominent roles. Which youngsters seize the opportunity is very much up in the air right now, but the Sharks do have a ton of options. This changing of the guard will be gradual and will allow the Sharks to maintain their spot as a consistently dangerous squad in the West, and one capable of challenging for a Stanley Cup.