San Jose Sharks
The eight year contract given to Erik Karlsson last summer is going to look bad for the San Jose Sharks in about four years… if not sooner. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

I had this fantastic idea to get Sports on TV. Take the two NHL teams, one from each conference, with the best regulation winning percentages and have them play for the Stanley Cup in a neutral stadium with no fans in attendance, obviously. It would get sport on TV, in games that matter and as a personal incentive would see the Boston Bruins (.671%) take on the Colorado Avalanche (.621%). It’s a win-win, I’m sure everyone would agree.

However, while I was researching this something else caught my eye and it struck much closer to home here in California. Our NHL teams SUCK this year. All three teams have a below .500 regulation win percentage and are not even close. The Kings and Sharks both share a .400% while the Ducks are the best of a bad bunch with .408%.

It’s not really a surprise either. The Kings have been bad since their last Stanley Cup win in the 2013-14 season with two first round exits and three seasons where they failed to even make the playoffs following. Ducks followed suit last season by not reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and this season the San Jose Sharks were joining the California congregation with one of their worse performances in over two decades, minus the lockout season.

The Kings, in their defense, had shown some fight in recent weeks going 8-1-1 in their last ten games while the Ducks were a respectable 5-3-2. The Sharks, on the other hand, were 3-6-1, bottom of the Western Conference and on a four-game losing streak. If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were purposely tanking for a chance at Alexis Lafrenière, the consensus number one draft prospect from the QMJHL.

The problem is they aren’t.

The San Jose Sharks have a decision to make

And that’s not just lip service from Doug Wilson, a General Manager who has constantly traded to try win. They really aren’t. Mainly because they traded their own first round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Defenseman Erik Karlsson and therefore only have Tampa Bay’s first rounder from this year’s Barclay Goodrow trade to use. Considering how good Tampa have been, the chances of that being in the top 20 are highly doubtful.

So what went wrong for a team that were one step away from the Stanley Cup finals just a year ago?

Then there’s the salary cap.

Well apart from lady luck not being on their side this year like she was against the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs, the Sharks also chose to let mainstay Joe Pavelski leave as a free agent due to salary cap implications. While Pavelski was clearly in decline, he still remained an integral part of the setup at SAP Center as captain and while Logan Couture is the right replacement the injuries he’s faced this season hasn’t led to a smooth transition.

Not to meant the move to let Pavelski walk didn’t really help their Salary cap hell as they handed Erik Karlsson a bumper eight year $11.5 million AAV contract that will leave them in the same cap crunch again this off season, with approximately $20 million of cap space available and decisions to be made on a restricted free agent class that includes Aaron Dell, Tim Heed, Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton. They’ll also have to decide what to do with restricted free agent Kevin LaBanc who already took a team friendly deal last year and might be expecting to get paid.

While the Sharks might try to save money by saying LaBanc hasn’t performed to last season’s numbers, he could easily fire back with ‘neither has anyone else’ plus he was grossly underpaid after that year, getting a one year $1 million contract.

And lastly, there is the goaltending issue.

Aaron Dell is the least of their worries as an unrestricted free agent with Martin Jones being the real problem signed for another four years after this season at a ridiculous 5.75 million per year. If you trade Jones it’s going to be for next to nothing given his form, you may even have to sweeten the deal. Dell hasn’t been much better but at 1.9 million a year is a lot more team friendly, should he re-sign for roughly the same.

MacKinnon – the Messiah or a very naughty boy?

With over $50 million of next year’s salary tied into just seven players, Doug Wilson may have no other option but to start realistically considering a rebuild. Given that the players in question are Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Marc-Édouard Vlasic means the top tier talent needed is there, however filing out the depth needed to win a Stanley Cup will mean relying on some entry level deals that only prospects can provide. This is where Ryan Merkley comes in. The 2019 draft pick has lit up the OHL with the London Knights this year, scoring 76 points in 60 games before the cancellation of the season.

Then again, knowing Wilson he’ll probably end up trading his 2021 first rounder and going all in again next season. It’s just who he is. It just might also be why he’s not there this time next year.

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