NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the San Jose Sharks:
1. Could Tomas Hertl be traded before the season ends?
The 27-year-old forward is in the final season of a four-year contract, and how the Sharks perform could influence what they do with him ahead of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. San Jose has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons after qualifying in 14 of the previous 15, so if the rebuild continues, the Sharks could try to trade Hertl rather than risk losing him for nothing as a free agent.
“I wonder if San Jose will want to re-sign me and if I’ll want to stay there,” Hertl told MF DNES in the Czech Republic on Sept. 3. “I don’t want to have it in my head, I don’t want to be influenced by anything like that. I will start the season and let’s see how it works out. If I change teams, I’ll be looking at places where there is a chance to win. The other thing is if those teams would want me. It’s complicated, but who knows? Maybe San Jose has a plan and I don’t fit into it for them.”
Hertl scored 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 50 games last season after recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. He had surgery to repair damaged ligaments in his right knee as a rookie in 2013-14, injured that knee again in Game 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins and missed the rest of the series, and had surgery for a sprain in his right knee during the 2016-17 season.
2. Can Adin Hill and James Reimer upgrade the goaltending?
Hill was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for goalie Josef Korenar on July 14 and agreed to a two-year contract Aug. 4 to avoid an arbitration hearing. He was 9-9-1 with a 2.74 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts in an NHL career-high 19 games (17 starts) last season. Reimer signed a two-year contract with the Sharks on July 28 after he was 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games (21 starts) with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
The hope is Hill and Reimer can come in and stabilize the position after Martin Jones had the final three seasons of his six-year contract bought out by San Jose, which has finished either 30th or 31st in the NHL in team save percentage in each of the past three seasons.
“We’re looking forward to both these guys coming in and strengthening that position,” coach Bob Boughner said July 28. “If you look back last year at some of the games we played and thought we could have won, a change in goaltending was a need, and I think that both guys are going to come in and help.”
3. Will forwards Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano help change their identity?
Bonino, who signed a two-year contract July 28, is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins (2016, 2017). Cogliano, who signed a one-year contract the same day, played for the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You heard these guys speak about how hard they approach every day and prepare and how important working away from the puck is, in taking pride in their defensive game just as much as they do their offensive game,” Boughner said. “I think that can only be a good thing.”
4. How much do defensemen Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson have left?
Burns has four seasons remaining on the eight-year contract he signed Nov. 22, 2016, and his production has declined since he set NHL career highs in assists (67) and points (83) in 2018-19. Last season, the 36-year-old scored 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) and was minus-13 in 56 games. Vlasic has five seasons remaining on the eight-year contract he signed July 1, 2017. The 34-year-old scored an NHL career-low six points (one goal, five assists) in 51 games last season and averaged less than 20:00 of ice time per game (17:31) for the first time in his 15-season career. Karlsson signed an eight-year contract June 17, 2019, and like Burns, his numbers have dipped the past two seasons. The 31-year-old scored 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 52 games last season, his fewest in a full NHL season.
5. Who can spark the offense?
The Sharks averaged 2.61 goals per game last season, which was 25th in the NHL, and haven’t had a player score at least 50 points the past two seasons, but John Leonard could be ready to break through. The 23-year-old forward scored 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 44 games as a rookie last season after he finished in the top 10 in voting for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to the top player in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey, in 2019-20, when he led the NCAA with 27 goals as a junior at the University of Massachusetts.