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NHL Burning Questions: San Jose Sharks

Adam Proteau looks at the biggest questions surrounding the San Jose Sharks this season, including Mike Grier's future moves, Brent Burns' replacement, and a new goaltending tandem.

This is the latest file in THN.com’s Burning Questions series, a continuing feature in which we ask three key questions about every NHL team. In this file, we’re putting Three Burning Questions to the San Jose Sharks..

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE SHARKS IN 2022-23:

1. What moves will we see from new Sharks GM Mike Grier as he begins making his imprint on the franchise? 

In July, a new era started for the Sharks with the hiring of GM Mike Grier. The former blue-collar NHLer had earned respect in management circles with stints in New Jersey (as a scout) and Manhattan (as hockey operations manager for the Rangers), and he now takes over from longtime GM Doug Wilson in San Jose. But Grier has a messy situation to deal with right away -- a dog’s breakfast of a roster, with aging veterans and some up-and-coming prospects.

Many are expecting to see Grier move out his older players and clean out the dressing room with the hope their youngsters develop into elite NHLers, but it won’t be easy: as per CapFriendly.com, seven of their players -- including star forwards Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Alex Barbanov (!) and Nick Bonino (!!), star defensemen Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and goalie James Reimer -- have some form of no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts, so Grier’s trading partners could be limited, and he’ll need to be creative to make deals work under the salary cap.

At present, the Sharks have only $229,000 in cap space, so Grier has next to no wiggle room if he does make trades as the season progresses. The Pacific Division the Sharks play in has seen off-season improvements in Anaheim, Vancouver, and Los Angeles, so it’s unlikely San Jose will be a playoff team. For that reason, Grier is best to move his veterans and start anew. It will certainly be painful for Sharks fans to see the tumult that’s almost certainly ahead, but if the end result is a dynamic new group that can succeed a year or three from now, it will be worth it.

2. Is the Sharks’ goalie tandem underrated? 

The short answer to this question is: no, they’re properly rated, if the rating is that Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen are a decent-enough duo, but one that could be altered should Grier find a trade partner for the 34-year-old Reimer. He’s an attractive asset in a goalie-hungry market who is in the final year of his contract, at a very reasonable salary of $2.75 million, and Reimer is also coming off a career-best year in games played (48) and a year in which he posted pedestrian numbers (2.90 Goals-Against Average, and .910 Save Percentage) on a sub-par Sharks team. There are going to be GMs who come calling for Reimer, and it’s up to Grier to maximize the return on Reimer in a trade.

But until that happens, it will be intriguing to see if the 26-year-old Kahkonen can step up and claim the starter’s job in San Jose. After being acquired from Minnesota last season, Kahkonen put up a solid .916 SP and 2.86 G.A.A. in 11 games with the Sharks, and he was rewarded with a two-year, $5.5-million contract; he’ll likely be dependable enough for Grier to lean on as he rebuilds the team around him.

With fringe NHLer Aaron Dell in training camp, Grier would have a backup to Kahkonen if he ships out Reimer, but that duo would not be especially fearsome to opponents. But Grier knows this, and he knows moving Reimer would be a painful part of the rebuild. That’s just how it goes, though. Nothing will be charitably given to the Sharks, and that includes the return they get for an experienced hand like Reimer.

3. Will the hole left by former Sharks star defenseman Brent Burns be filled by a young San Jose blueliner? 

This is another question with a clear answer of “no”. When Grier traded Burns to Carolina this past summer for worker bee forward Steven Lorentz, goaltending prospect Eetu Makiniemi, and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL entry draft, he sent a message that virtually nobody on the Sharks’ roster is safe. Burns averaged a team-high 26:09 and generated 44 assists and 54 points in 82 games. There is nobody in San Jose with the package of tools that Burns had.

Yes, the Sharks still have Karlsson (who missed 32 games last season, but is healthy now), Vlasic (who averaged just 15:12 of ice time, yet earns $7 million per season for the next four years), and youngster Mario Ferraro (who at age 23 averaged exactly 23 minutes for San Jose last year). 

But depth is a concern here, as it is throughout the lineup. For San Jose to even think about the playoffs, they’ll need good luck on the health front, and hope their older players rebound with big years. Otherwise, there are black clouds on the horizon for this group. Change is coming, and that began with Burns. They’ll miss him, but building a Stanley Cup frontrunner takes time and sacrifice.

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