The San Jose Sharks have dominated the Pacific Division in recent years, but have a checkered past in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They made a step toward their future Wednesday, May 29 when CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported they signed top prospect, 2012 first-round pick Tomas Hertl to an entry-level contract. Cap Geek lists it as three years at $1.35 million per season.
What is not known is how quickly Hertl will get a chance to contribute in San Jose. Playing the North American style can be difficult. He has done well in Europe, scoring 51 points in 81 games over two seasons at the highest level of hockey in the Czech Republic. In 100 games against other competition under the age of 20 (leagues or international competition dating back to when he was 16), he has 99 points.
However, scoring in the Pacific Division (or whatever they call it next season) will be tough. They have good goalies and players have to be able to contribute defensively. Hertl was the 17th overall pick in the NHL draft in part because he is a scorer with a strong defensive focus. He is responsible in his own end, has a good stick and great hands, and will certainly be instructed on shot-blocking as part of the franchise second-best in the NHL at that skill.
That opens up the possibility the Sharks could find room for him on the third line since it is unlikely he us ready for a scoring-line role. Even being on the fourth line is not bad when it includes being alongside play-maker Scott Gomez, who projects there if he returns. Having a scorer on all four lines makes it easier for a team that already likes to roll all of them give him enough ice time to develop.
He will need to adjust to the travel of the Western Conference, but at least it will be on high-quality planes.
The Cap Geek cap calculator projects the Sharks could have just over $1.25 million in cap room if they brought back the top 14 forwards, seven defensemen and the only change in net was losing Thomas Greiss and giving Alex Stalock the backup role.
Thus, whoever (probably Tim Kennedy) is sent down to make room allows them to fit him under the salary cap. Even with the more conservative Examiner estimate might simply mean they cannot keep a veteran fill-in like Scott Hannan on their payroll.
Better yet, it may force them to use their amnesty option on Martin Havlat. If they swallow the money on that horrible trade, they can use that cap room to get a better replacement in this buyer’s market.
The Sharks were one player away from making the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in nine seasons. Hertl is probably at least a year away from being that guy, and is better-suited to be part of the next generation after the team likely moves on from a player or two of its core when their contracts expire next season.
However, if the team is bold enough to move Havlat and add that one extra player to a scoring line, they could take a step to erasing that checkered postseason past. Moveover, their best prospect could get valuable experience as part of the pursuit for the 2014 Stanley Cup.