Sharks Analysis

Four areas Sharks should address through free agency, trades

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Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.

Who couldn’t help the San Jose Sharks improve next season?

When you’re arguably the salary cap era's worst team – the Sharks’ minus-150 Goal Differential for this past season was the most since the Ottawa Senators’ minus-196 in 1993-94 – it feels like virtually half of the NHL would be an improvement.

So of course top UFAs like center Sam Reinhart, winger Steven Stamkos and defenseman Brady Skjei might be difference-makers. Of course big-name trade targets like Mitch Marner, Martin Necas and Nikolaj Ehlers would be great additions.

But realistically?

The Sharks need to balance that desperate need to create a more positive, competitive environment for star prospects Will Smith and expected No. 1 overall draft pick Macklin Celebrini to walk into, perhaps as soon as next year – without going overboard.

The Sharks aren’t close enough to Stanley Cup playoff contention where they’d be attractive to an older free agent used to winning, like Stamkos – or where it’d make sense to offer a 29-year-old 50-goal scorer, like Reinhart, a maximum contract.

In much the same way, they’re not in a good position yet to offer meaningful assets to land a star like Marner via trade.

Simply put, the Sharks must get appreciably better next season, but without seriously mortgaging their future. At this point in their rebuild, it’s still crucial to keep their future first-round draft picks and avoid handing out long, potentially crippling contracts.

So with that in mind, here are four positions of need the Sharks must address, along with more likely free agent or trade targets.

Couture Insurance

Let’s assume that center Logan Couture, only able to play six games last year, is unable to start the 2024-25 NHL season.

That leaves the Sharks’ center depth thin, after Mikael Granlund, Nico Sturm and likely Celebrini.

Smith is a natural center, but counting on two teens to anchor key roles up the middle could be a recipe for disaster. Wing might be a more ideal place for Smith to start his NHL career anyway.

So San Jose could use another veteran center, who has middle-six skill, high compete and will be a great example for the youngsters. Like if you could clone Couture or Granlund, that would be ideal.

But failing that, the cap-strapped New York Islanders could be looking to shed some salary.

Could the Sharks swing a trade for Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who has two years left on his contract at $5 million AAV?

“Almost feels like they can’t go forward without moving him, considering his cap [hold],” Andrew Fantucchio of NYI Hockey Now told San Jose Hockey Now.

Keep in mind, the 31-year-old has a 16-team No-Trade Clause.

But the Islanders’ alternate captain is an all-situations center, more defensive-leaning, who has averaged about half a point per game since 2019-20. His production did drop to 11 goals and 22 assists in 82 games last year.

But the 5-foot-11 pivot is a solid add who should have a reasonable acquisition cost.

So if Couture happens to be healthy? That’s just a huge bonus.

Gritty Scoring Winger

General manager Mike Grier has talked constantly about making the Sharks harder to play against.

A Pageau helps in that regard.

But the Sharks also need help at wing, a high-compete player who has middle-six scoring touch and will stand up for his teammates.

Let’s pencil in Will Smith, William Eklund, Fabian Zetterlund, Luke Kunin, Klim Kostin, Filip Zadina and Justin Bailey into the lineup at wing.

Thomas Bordeleau and Danil Gushchin are also knocking on the door.

Could free agent Dakota Joshua be a solid addition to this mix?

The 6-foot-3 Joshua blossomed with a career-high 18 goals in 63 games this past season, also leading the Vancouver Canucks in hits and tied for the team lead in fights.

At 27, he could be a late bloomer.

AFP Analytics, as of May 20, predicts the UFA will sign a four-year contract with a $3.253 million AAV.

Not One, But Two Defensemen

On a team full of weaknesses, defense might have been the Sharks’ ugliest this past season.

They couldn’t kill plays or move the puck – essentially, they couldn’t do most anything right – so adding all-around defenders should be the priority.

The Sharks could use at least two all-around blueliners who belong higher on the depth chart than incumbent left-handers Mario Ferraro, Henry Thrun, Shakir Mukhamadullin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and right-handers Jan Rutta, Matt Benning, Ty Emberson, and Kyle Burroughs.

There’s a chain reaction: Pushing the likes of Ferraro down in the lineup makes the whole defense better. For example, instead of Ferraro playing his customary 23-plus minutes, getting him down into the 19-20 range is likely better for him and the team.

So maybe a pair of UFA right-handers like Dylan DeMelo and Sean Walker would be a good fit?

An NHL scout from outside of the Sharks organization believes that DeMelo and Walker should be slightly less in-demand than the bigger middle-class names on the market like Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev.

Offensively, both DeMelo (31 points) and Walker (29) would’ve paced Sharks defensemen in that category, over actual leader Ferraro (21). Neither are true top power-play quarterbacks, but they’re capable puck movers.

Defensively, both DeMelo and Walker are high-compete defenders who can handle tough matchups, and they’re also penalty killing fixtures.

Ideally, you’d like bigger (DeMelo is 6-foot-1, Walker 5-foot-11) and younger (DeMelo is 31, Walker is 30) blueliners, but beggars can’t be choosers. And their willingness to battle makes up for a lot.

Ideally, DeMelo and Walker are middle-pairing rearguards on a deeper team – but at least they shouldn’t be as overmatched as Sharks D was last year in high-leverage situations.

AFP Analytics projects that DeMelo will command a four-year contract with a $5.3 million AAV and Walker will net a three-year deal with a $4.63 million AAV.

Projected Lines

“Definitely [plausible],” the scout, who vetted these roster needs and additions, told SJHN.

The Sharks will probably have to overpay the likes of Joshua, DeMelo and Walker, but with over $30 million in salary cap space at their disposal, they can afford to. They’re risks, but not significant risks.

Make no mistake – this theoretical Sharks squad isn’t making the playoffs:



Kunin-Pageau-Will Smith





Mackenzie Blackwood

Vitek Vanecek

But it should be a higher-compete group that will create a more positive environment for Celebrini and Smith to develop in.

And that’s the point: Don’t put the weight of the world on Celebrini and Smith until they’re ready for it.

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