This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.
Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.
Once similar in posture to their namesake, prowling the waters and jumping up to bite you when you least expect it, the San Jose Sharks have looked more like guppies of late. Following a string of playoff appearances that spanned 14 years — the 2014-15 season being the lone exception — that landed them in the Conference Finals four times and the Stanley Cup Final once, the Sharks have posted losing records and failed to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
For the first time in their history, the term “rebuild” is being tossed around in fan and media circles surrounding the once-feared Pacific Division club. This has got to feel weird to 18-year Sharks GM Doug Wilson. But it’s not the only strange thing going on in the San Jose front office. This, this is just weird…
Back in January it was revealed that Sharks winger Evander Kane was over $27 million dollars in debt, and was filing for bankruptcy protection. In amidst this news was the suggestion that the player and the team may choose to mutually terminate his contract. The court deadline for a decision on that was back in the early part of the year, but was extended to June 7th to allow Kane’s attorneys the opportunity to work out a settlement with his creditors.
Now: when you file bankruptcy, the court is extremely aware of any attempts on your part to hide, defer, or in any way shield large sums of money that creditors would otherwise have the right to pounce on. Terminating Kane’s contract would absolutely fall into that category, and the judge in the case would likely have told Kane and the Sharks that the termination of the contract would not impact the petitioner’s financial position with regards to the ability to repay his debts.
Essentially, if Kane and the Sharks were to go through with this maneuver, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the court would treat Kane as if the contract were still in force. In the eyes of the court, Kane would still be earning $7 million AAV for the next four seasons, even if he wasn’t actually playing or earning a dime. The law is pretty cut and dried on this issue, and if you think you can pull a fast one on the United States Bankruptcy Court, you’re in for a pretty serious shock.
Most of the time these things are done as negotiating tactics; go public with some half-cocked scheme to cast doubt on the party’s ability to pay, so creditors will accept a lower amount as part of a settlement. The extension of the deadline was likely another maneuver to come to an agreement that everyone could live with.
The absence of any news on the subject (save uninformed conjecture from pedestrian sources) even as the deadline for a decision on the matter of contract termination came and went suggests that an agreement in principle has been worked out, the contract will not be terminated, and Kane will continue to play hockey. But until some announcement is made or he simply shows up at training camp, this will remain an outstanding question.
As it pertains to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, having Kane on the roster means he would potentially gobble up a protected slot. However, that was thrown into question recently as reports came out that Kane was mentioned unfavorably by numerous teammates during the Sharks’ exit interviews for the year. This raises speculation that the Sharks might want to be rid of this side show once and for all — and might leave him exposed, and additionally provide incentives for the Kraken to select him.
Kane was the Sharks’ leading scorer last year — 22 goals (including 3 PPG and 2 shorties), 27 assists, while notching a minus-1 rating (which for the Sharks is above average) playing in all 56 games. The kid can perform: the question is, do the Kraken want somebody who is an issue outside of the rink and a potential issue in the locker room? There are 4 years left on his contract at $7 million — the same price as Joe Pavelski and James Van Riemsdyk, both consistent veteran performers with less term. Taking on Kane when you have those two options available doesn’t make much sense, especially when they come with no locker room or off-ice drama.
To a degree, looking at the list of players and their salaries and comparing it to their stats from last year, the answer to the question of who the Sharks protect is, “Who cares?” There are some players who are a lock, but so many members of the San Jose roster either underperformed or didn’t make the lineup half the time. The Sharks had 35 skaters (!!!) play in more than one game last season, with just 5 players appearing in all 56 games. That shows you the state of disarray in the Sharks’ lineup, and the lack of faith the team has in many of their players.
That having been said, we are assuming that the Sharks will use the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and that the following players will be protected:
Forwards: Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Donato, Rudolf Balcers, Dylan Gambrell
Defense: Erik Karlsson (NMC), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (NMC), Radim Simek
Goaltender: Martin Jones
We’ll add in here that Patrick Marleau and Greg Pateryn headline the list of players who will be hitting the free agent market later this month, and for that reason will be neither protected nor selected by the Kraken. Additionally, the Sharks have a huge number of players who are exempt from the draft, prominent among whom are forwards John Leonard, Noah Gregor, and Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, as well as defensemen Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knyzhov.
We will discard the possibility of selecting either the aforementioned Evander Kane or cap hit nightmare Brent Burns — at age 36 he still has 4 years remaining on a deal paying him $8 million AAV — which leave very few possibilities from whom the Kraken can choose.
C Alex True, $763,000 AAV, RFA. His time with the Seattle Thunderbirds — 169 games over 3 seasons, posting 84 points — makes this 23-year-old, Danish-born forward the consensus pick for the Kraken. He’s 6’5″, just over 200 lbs., but he has yet to show he can deliver in the big leagues. If selected he would almost certainly continue his development with the Kraken’s temporary AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
LW Matt Nieto, $700,000 AAV, signed through 2023. The most tenured of the Sharks’ options, Nieto has 500 games under his belt with Colorado and San Jose. He does a lot of everything, but excels at very little.
D Christian Jaros, $750,000 AAV, RFA. Good size (6’4″, 220 lbs.) and some quality stats in the AHL for this Slovakian-born defender, he just hasn’t been able to deliver in the NHL as yet. Only 25 years old, so plenty of time to mature; but he’s not ready for prime time.
Underwhelmed yet? You should see how many times I’ve gone up and down the roster, trying to find somebody more talented or interesting. Safe to say that everyone associated with the Sharks that you would want on your team is either protected or exempt.
But that raises the question: could the Sharks be buyers during the expansion draft? Goaltending was a particular problem for San Jose last year; would they potentially be in the market for a young, inexpensive 1-B goaltender such as Vitek Vanecek, and would they be willing to part with somebody like Tristen Robins or Ozzy Wiesblatt in order to acquire him? These are questions only the Sharks can answer, though from their lack of activity so far this off-season it’s my guess that San Jose is resigned to another season or two of mediocrity while waiting for their numerous albatross contracts to expire.
At any rate: given the absence of any impact players from the Sharks, it makes sense that Ron Francis and his scouting squad follow their PR instincts and bring former Thunderbird True into the fold. They can milk his presence for all the youth outreach they can during pre-season, feature him in the “3 Rink Rush” games, then ship him off to the Checkers to see if he can make the jump to the next level.
That seems like the most likely choice given the available options, or more accurately, lack thereof.