Evaluating moves Sharks did, didn't make at trade deadline


CALGARY -- The Sharks took plenty of bites during yesterday’s NHL Trade Deadline, making a number of moves, major and minor.

Here are some quick thoughts on some things that the Sharks did, and some things they didn’t do.

Middleton for Kahkonen

The Sharks’ initial ask for Jake Middleton was a second-round pick and a good prospect, mirroring what the Ducks received for Josh Manson.

Kaapo Kahkonen and a 2022 fifth-rounder, that ain’t.

Regardless, Kahkonen is an intriguing 25-year-old goalie who’s been fairly solid for the Minnesota Wild over the last two years.

Kahkonen’s acquisition does create a logjam in goal. He’s an RFA and both Adin Hill and James Reimer are both under contract for next year.

The Sharks will look to deal one of these netminders this summer. I assume it’ll be either Reimer or Kahkonen, unless Hill rallies back from a persistent lower-body injury to finish the season strong. Reimer or Kahkonen both have higher value than Hill right now.

Trading Reimer or Kahkonen could also be a tool to re-acquire the 2022 second-round pick that was traded for Hill last summer. Or to add to a shallow forward corps.

As for parting with Middleton, the Sharks might be capitalizing at a time when his value is highest. The 26-year-old was an AHL journeyman before this year, and the Sharks have parlayed 45 solid games mostly next to Erik Karlsson into a legitimate return.

However, if Middleton is indeed a late bloomer, the Sharks may end up regretting this deal. Cost-controlled top-four defenseman – Middleton is scheduled to be an RFA – are very valuable, more valuable than a possible tandem-at-best goalie in Kahkonen.

This past summer, a scout told me: “I don't see Kahkonen as a starter yet. He's got potential, but he's still raw. He's a big body that does a good job of getting in front of pucks. He's still figuring out the NHL game.”

That said, if the Sharks really believed that Middleton was a true top-four defenseman – and not just benefiting from being the best on a weaker roster – I think they would’ve kept him.

Melnichuk for Morand

Alexei Melnichuk was signed out of the KHL a couple off-seasons ago and was hailed as the San Jose Sharks’ future between the pipes.

Melnichuk, however, had endured back-to-back rocky seasons in the AHL, posting a combined .867 save percentage.

Perhaps the most telling sign for how far the Russian prospect had fallen down the Sharks’ depth chart was mid-season, when Hill got hurt, Reimer started 13 straight games, and the Sharks refused to give Zach Sawchenko the net.

Meanwhile, Melnichuk continued to toil with the San Jose Barracuda.

At a time when the Sharks needed their No. 3 netminder most, they didn’t have confidence in either the plucky Sawchenko or the once highly-touted Melnichuk. Every team could use a No. 3 who can be relied upon for an occasional NHL start.

It’s an organizational failure that they had no one to turn to when Hill went down.

As for Antoine Morand, he was a second-round pick in 2017 who has become an AHL journeyman for the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning systems. 

Perhaps the Sharks will strike a little gold with him, like they did with former second-round pick Nicolas Meloche. They acquired Meloche from the Colorado Avalanche for minor league goalie Antoine Bibeau, and while Meloche hasn’t turned out into a remarkable player, he appears to be carving out a career as a viable No. 7 NHL defenseman.

A scout tells me that he sees Morand as pure AHL depth. But that’s one man’s opinion.

From Middleton to Meloche to Rudolfs Balcers, the Sharks development staff have done a credible job of turning young cast-offs from other organizations into NHL players.

Keeping Barabanov

There are finally some developments in the Alexander Barabanov situation.

When kingpin Tomas Hertl re-signed last week, there was some thought that pending UFA Barabanov would be the next domino.

That didn’t happen, putting in question how much the Sharks wanted to keep the 27-year-old winger in advance of the Trade Deadline.

After some mixed signals – a source told me that the Sharks and Barabanov’s camp hadn’t talked contract – acting GM Joe Will stated that he had been “kicking tires” with Barabanov’s agent Dan Milstein.

“I have been in contact with the agent,” Will said yesterday. “We have until July 13 to sign him. He’s an important part of our team. He’s scored well this year. So we’re just playing out the process.”

Negotiations may be going slower than the Barabanov camp would like, but it’s worth noting that every source I talked to agreed that Barabanov’s name was never really put out there this Trade Deadline. The Sharks’ intention appears to be to keep Barabanov.

I’ve heard two, three years as a possible term, but I imagine the AAV will be hotly disputed.

On one hand, Barabanov has been the Sharks’ best forward this year besides the Big 3 of Hertl, Timo Meier, and Logan Couture.

On the hand, sources around the league tell me that they don’t necessarily see Barabanov as a true top-six forward, that they see him benefitting from the generous playing time that an under-skilled Sharks squad can afford to provide. It’s not that Barabanov isn’t good – but how good is he, really?

If the Sharks see it that way too, they might be hesitant to commit much money to Barabanov, even if they have no obvious in-house replacements.

Bonino, Nieto on Block

Andrew Cogliano was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, and according to a source, Nick Bonino and Matt Nieto, the two other parts to the Sharks’ third line for the majority of this season, were on the block too.

Cogliano, however, unlike Bonino and Nieto, was a pending UFA. Bonino and Nieto are each signed for one more year.

Will had a different version of the same story, saying he got calls on Bonino.

I wonder if both will be on the trade block once again this summer.

Nieto, 29, is signed to a team-friendly $850,000 next year, while Bonino, 33, comes in at $2.05 million, pricey for a likely fourth-line center. The two-time Stanley Cup champ comes with plenty of experience and defensive acumen though.

Their availability during the Deadline suggests that the Sharks might not see them as part of the long-term solution as the team seeks to return to the playoffs next year.

Bonino, for his part, stated this morning, “I want to be in San Jose.”

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