Much like his team-building compatriots throughout the league, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson has spent the days and weeks since his team’s season ended looking ahead to the expansion draft. But all the extensive projecting and planning that has gone into the draft will be over by next week. The Vegas Golden Knights will have their roster, the entry draft will be on the horizon and, following that, it will be time for this summer’s second silly season, free agency, to open.
For Wilson, though, the main concern come July 1 won’t be who he adds to his roster, but what kind of deal he can hammer out to keep a pair of the Sharks’ most important players in San Jose through next season and beyond. And one of those topping Wilson’s to-do list, right alongside goaltender Martin Jones, is defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and by the sounds of things, discussions with the standout rearguard and his representation are heading in the right direction.
Amidst all the trade chatter and expansion draft speculation Wednesday, TVA's Louis-André Larivière reported that talks between the two camps have “gone well” and that a long-term contract extension for Vlasic could be weeks away from becoming a reality. Of course, with Vlasic under contract for one more year, no extension can be inked before July 1, but it appears it shouldn’t be long after free agency opens that the Sharks rearguard finds himself locked up on a new deal.
That the Sharks wish to retain Vlasic long-term is no surprise. Over the past several seasons, Vlasic has risen the ranks in San Jose and throughout the NHL to become one of the top shutdown defensemen in the league, an incredibly trustworthy blueliner who is tasked with tough minutes against top opponents more than almost any other defenseman. While Brent Burns gets the glory — and rightfully so given his supreme offensive talent — Vlasic is as important as anyone to the success of the Sharks’ defense.
Consider that this past season, there are only a handful of defenders who faced a quality of competition that was similar to that of Vlasic, including the likes of Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith and Ryan McDonagh. And while defensive success is more difficult to quantify than pure goals for and goals against, look at the players Vlasic is often up against. Over the past three campaigns, some of his most common opponents are the Sedin twins, Ryan Getzlaf, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid. That Vlasic is tasked with limiting the offensive contributions of top players on a consistent basis isn’t a fluke.
Vlasic has seen some success against these top foes, too. Take this past post-season. Despite the Sharks losing in six games, one of the big storylines was the limited offensive impact of McDavid, who managed two goals and four points in six games. While that may not seem like much in the way of “limiting” McDavid, it was a near 50 percent drop in his points per game from the regular season. And during the post-season, when McDavid hit the ice, Vlasic was right there alongside him — Vlasic played 74 of his 100 5-on-5 playoff minutes against McDavid.
None of this is to mention that Vlasic was a crucial piece in the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16 and is an Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion and World Championship silver medalist as part of Team Canada. You can almost count on it that Vlasic would be part of the Canadian roster in Pyeongchang, too, if the NHL would allow its players to go to the 2018 Olympics.
But given Vlasic’s on-ice defensive prowess and impressive credentials, the question has fast become what it will cost for the Sharks to bring the rearguard back into the fold on a long-term deal. The one thing that is almost certain is Vlasic will be due a considerable raise. Currently, the rearguard is set to enter the final season of a five-year, $21.25-million deal that pays him $4.25 million per season. When it comes to giving Vlasic his payday, however, the Sharks have to contend with upcoming cap considerations and ensure they’ll have enough money to keep the core of their team together for another few seasons, at least.
First and foremost, that is going to mean a new contract for goaltender Martin Jones, whose deal is also set to expire after the 2017-18 campaign. And Jones, who has been a standout for the Sharks since joining the club in 2015-16, will almost certainly command a decent raise himself. There are others San Jose has to worry about, however. Captain Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, for example, will both see their deals come to an end in 2019-20, as will Joonas Donskoi. Meanwhile, each of Joel Ward, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, defenseman Dylan DeMelo and goaltender Aaron Dell are set to become free agents next off-season. Retaining the bulk of that group over the next three seasons will be costly.
Even with all of those who will be in need of contracts, though, the Sharks probably won’t hesitate to shell out somewhere in the $6 million range, if not slightly higher, to retain Vlasic on a long-term pact. That would put him in the same company as Keith, Johnny Boychuk, Keith Yandle and Matt Niskanen, as well as a few other high-profile, top-pairing defensemen. Such a deal would still allow substantial money for San Jose to retain their players — the Sharks would have more than $40 million to spend when both Pavelski and Couture’s deals are up — and add where necessary. That kind of flexibility down the line is important for a team that could be in a retooling process in a few years’ time.
It may, however, mean that some sacrifices need to be made down the line. If no Sharks defenseman is scooped up in the expansion draft and the group stays the same through to the 2019-20 season, San Jose would have more than $23 million dedicated to five defensemen. If you’re looking for a comparison, that’s more money than the Nashville Predators had sunk into their entire star-studded defensive cast this past campaign. So, signing Vlasic to a deal worth $6 million or more could mean a sacrifice needs to be made up front or, more likely, on the back end in a few seasons’ time.
But that could be the cost of keeping the core together and retaining one of the top defensive defensemen in the league. And it’s almost certainly a price the Sharks will be more than willing to pay.
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