This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Pacific Division won out and will be featured this week before we close out the series with the Metropolitan.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Sharks currently have nine forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender under contract for next season at a price tag of $66,618,333. WIth a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $14,881,667 in cap space and eight spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: In the case of Kellman, Suomela and Middleton, these guys combined for 61 games this season and will certainly stake their claims for spots on the 23-man roster, however, none of them should be hoping for more than their qualifying offers considering they also collectively registered 16 points. It was no doubt a disappointing year for the 24-year-old Labanc, as he failed to reach the 40-point mark for the first time since his rookie campaign. Still, the winger is capable of being a 50-point producer and could even push for the 20-goal mark on a yearly basis. In February of 2018, the Islanders' Josh Bailey inked a six-year, $30 million deal coming off a 70-point campaign, so this is likely a ceiling of sorts for Labanc. I would expect slightly less term and AAV, perhaps in the neighborhood of a five-year, $20 million deal.
Kyle Riley: Labanc agreed to a somewhat mind boggling one-year, $1 million contract extension last summer after notching 17 goals and 56 points in 82 games. The 24-year-old winger took a step back in terms of offensive production this season, but the Sharks were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, so Labanc should return to form in the coming years. I think a $4 million AAV is right on the money for the Brooklyn native. A four-year, $16 million deal should get it done. Kellman only appeared in 31 games with the big club this campaign while bouncing between the AHL and NHL, so his QO should do the trick. The same can be said for Suomela and Middleton, who only combined for 30 top-level appearances this year.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: While Melker Karlsson and Stefan Noesen both can provide decent quality as bottom-six forwards, the organization has players like Alex True and Joachim Blichfeld who will be pushing for more opportunities with the club. At the end of the day, Karlsson and Noesen will be expendable in terms of the long-term rebuild. Having said that, the club is thin down the middle, which would certainly warrant keeping Jumbo Joe around for another year, though they may need him to take less than his $2 million, perhaps closer to $1 million in order to pursue targets on the open market. Heading into next season, Mario Ferraro stands a good chance of securing a regular spot in the lineup, which means the club is likely just looking for a seventh defenseman. While the Sharks aren't hard up against the cap, Davidson likely will be the most cost-effective option and offers more potential upside. Bringing him in around $800,000 AAV for 2-3 years will make sense for both sides. Goaltending was a big problem for the club last season and while they won't be moving away from Martin Jones, in part due to his contract, there isn't a reason to re-up Dell. The team signed Alexei Melnichuk in May of 2020 and he figures to be the preferred No. 2 and could even compete for the starting job.
Kyle Riley: Karlsson is one of San Jose's best penalty killers, but he offers very little in terms of scoring. Still, I think he's worth keeping around on a two-year, $4 million contract. Thornton has already publicly stated that he plans to keep playing, and I can't see him signing with anyone but the Sharks. He should be willing to take a little less, too. I think a one-year, $1.5 million deal should be enough to keep him in the fold for another year. Noesen doesn't bring much to the table in terms of special teams production and he doesn't do much at even strength, either. I think San Jose should let him walk and let one of their youngsters take his spot on the 23-man roster next year. Heed is a decent bottom-pairing defender, and would continue to be in and out of the lineup as the Sharks' seventh defenseman next year, so he's worth keeping around on a one-year, $1 million deal. Prout only logged two games with the big club this season due to various injuries, so there's no reason to bring him back this offseason. Davidson only appeared in 12 contests split between the Flames and Sharks and simply isn't an NHL-caliber defender, so San Jose shouldn't think twice about letting him walk. As AJ mentioned, Alexei Melnichuk or Josef Korenar should be able to step in as Jones' backup in 2020-21, so there's no reason for the Sharks to pay Dell more than $2 million to fill that role next year.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: While they don't have anybody that played in an NHL game, the club will need to get Jonathan Dahlen under contract, though he has already stated his intent to play overseas next season. A qualifying offer would carry a $874,125 value for one-year on a two-way deal but it will likely serve as a formality in order to retain his RFA rights.
Kyle Riley: Jonathan Dahlen will be playing in his native Sweden in 2020-21, so the Sharks will just extend him his QO in order to retain his rights with the hope he'll be willing to make the move to North America sooner rather than later.
AJ Scholz: This will likely leave the organization with between $4-5 million in available cap space, depending on how much money they give Joe Thornton. With their roster as it stands, including Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, this is a club that could certainly make a run into the playoffs. It might be best to maintain any available cap space to see who might be available at the trade deadline if the team can overcome its 2019-20 struggles.
Kyle Riley: The plan I outlined above would see the Sharks enter the 2020-21 campaign with nearly $4 million in cap space without losing any key pieces. Still, San Jose was a disaster this year, ending the regular season 29th in the overall standings. With Erik Karlsson's mega-deal quickly becoming an albatross and Marc-Edouard Vlasic set to be massively overpaid for the next six seasons, it may be a while before the Sharks are in a position to contend.