In the Deep End: the San Jose Sharks confusing future and the re-signing of Tomas Hertl

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

The San Jose Sharks recently re-signed forward Tomas Hertl to an eight-year deal with an annual cap hit of 8.1375 million. The contract includes a three-year no-movement clause and a separate five-year limited no-trade clause. Hertl is an excellent forward toward the end of his prime and while this contract makes sense in a vacuum, when put in the context of the San Jose Sharks it looks nonsensical and illogical. 

The Sharks were once a powerhouse in the Western Conference. They made multiple cup runs and were filled with elite talent. Now, they’ve been reduced from ferocious great whites to minnows. They’ve missed the playoffs three years in a row, and their elite talent continues to age with not much young blood flowing in to refresh the core. While they moved out some of those aging pieces at the deadline, they still live in a fantasy in which their competitive window is still open or very close to returning. 

The Sharks have a tremendous amount of money tied up in older and declining players. This includes washed-up defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns and the captain, Logan Couture, another forward over 30. Both Burns and Couture make 8 million AAV, and Karlsson makes an unconscionable 11.5 million. That is not even mentioning Marc-Edouard Vlasic, another over 30 defenseman who makes a more modest 7 million. They have an aging core, and Hertl, while highly talented, is another addition.

 Re-signing a skilled forward in his early 30s doesn’t seem like a bad idea if you are a team that is still competitive, but the Sharks have missed the playoffs for three seasons. That is not a competitive team regardless of what their contract dealings show. It is common knowledge that a player’s prime is from about age 25 to 30; they start to decline after that. So while Hertl is playing well now,  toward the back half of his contract, he will likely not be the same player he has been. 

The Sharks don’t seem to have a clue where their team is. If they did, they would’ve traded Hertl for a cache of draft picks and promising young prospects because that is what this team needs. They are again missing the playoffs, and their expensive core continues to decline. It is time for a full-scale rebuild, but the GM, Doug Wilson, doesn’t seem to be taking the necessary actions. The Sharks are what can be called bad by accident; management believes this team to be competitive and is making moves to make the roster better, but the team still falters and sinks to the bottom of the standings. Instead of stockpiling draft picks and prospects, they are making trades and re-signing 30-year-olds to massive contracts. 

While the Burns and Karlsson contracts are probably unmoveable, it would make sense for San Jose to start selling. Their glory days are behind them, and they need to stop living in the past. This team isn’t good enough to compete even in the weak Pacific Division. Other comparable teams like the Anaheim  Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, who were good in the same window as the Sharks, have started their rebuilds and have been successful. The Kings are on track to make the playoffs, and their prospect pool is excellent. The Ducks sold at the trade deadline and already have one of the most exciting young players in the league, Trevor Zegras. Both are examples of successful rebuilds. The Kings and Ducks both realized that their competitive window was behind them, tore it all down, acquired draft picks, developed prospects, and now they are on their way to being competitive again. The Kings even did it with the Drew Doughty contract, another deal that has not stood the test of time well. The Kings didn’t have to trade the contract out to build a playoff-caliber team. Because the Kings have so many young players that tend to be cheap, expensive but past their prime players have less of a negative impact on the overall team. Both the Ducks and Kings are making the correct moves for what their respective teams need.

The Sharks competitive window stretched slightly past that of the Ducks and Kings, but unlike both teams, Wilson is not checking in with reality. Neither are players like Karlsson, who has declared that he wants the team to win now and in San Jose. Unfortunately for Karlsson, this team isn’t close to being a contender or even enough to compete for a wild card spot. It is time for the Sharks to tear it down, but with this Hertl extension, it seems unlikely that the team will do that anytime soon. So, where do they stand? 

The Sharks are really in the deep end, and it seems like it is sink or swim time for Wilson. It is time for the Sharks to commit to a rebuild if they ever want to rise above where they are currently. If the Sharks fail to figure this out, they will never return to their previous success and continue to toil away under the burden of aging players on unconscionable deals. Success in the NHL is short-lived and fickle. Wilson needs to wake up and smell the coffee. 

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