NHL trade deadline: What’s the Sharks’ strategy, and when might the rebuild end?

NHL trade deadline: What’s the Sharks’ strategy, and when might the rebuild end?

SAN JOSE – With the NHL’s trade deadline now six weeks away, San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier said the organization needs to recoup assets for some of its players who are on expiring contracts.

The rebuilding Sharks, who entered Friday in next to last place in the NHL’s overall standings, have 10 players within the organization who are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer and it appears Grier has little interest in re-signing veterans around 30 years old to rich, multi-year deals.

“That’s kind of the stage we’re at where we’re still trying to collect assets,” Grier said.  Thursday after an event held for elevated season ticket holders. “Whether it’s draft picks or young players or prospects, we’ve got to keep kind of getting some ammo or to take some swings at some things.

“Where we are, we don’t — if we can avoid it — (want to) let UFA’s walk for nothing. So if we can get something back that will help us down the road, we’ll definitely look to try and do that.”

While pending UFAs Anthony Duclair, Mike Hoffman, Alexander Barabanov and Kaapo Kahkonen would appear to be among the top candidates to be traded by the Sharks, there has also been some speculation that players with term – such as defenseman Mario Ferraro and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood – could also be moved for the right package.

Grier didn’t wish to tip his hand as to what his approach might be to the March 8 trade deadline but said teams around the league right now are doing their due diligence to see who might be available and for what price.

The Sharks are holding their pro scout meetings this weekend.

“I think it’s a lot of kicking the tires right now,” Grier said. “But I think once teams kind of get through those pro meetings, they’ll have an idea of who they want to target and things will probably pick up here after the (NHL All-Star) break.”

The looming question is what kind of return the Sharks could expect to get for some of their pending UFAs, who have largely had underwhelming seasons.

Hoffman, 34, is a six-time 20-goal scorer but enters Saturday with eight goals and 17 points in 46 games. Duclair, 28, is one of the fastest skaters on the Sharks roster but has battled inconsistency and has eight goals and 16 points in 43 games.

Barabanov, 29, was injured from late October to early December and has just nine points in 28 games, compared to 47 points in 68 games last season.

Of course, the Sharks, in a new era without Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier, were also without Logan Couture for the entire first half of the season. As a result, the Sharks are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL this year with an average of 2.08 goals per game, down from 2.84 last season.

San Jose Sharks General Manager Mike Grier speaks at a Sharks365 member event at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Grier said he and the Sharks haven’t delved into what type of return they’ll be seeking for certain players but felt that despite the paltry numbers for some pending UFAs, an individual’s history also plays a role.

“Guys are having the seasons they’re having,” Grier said. “But I also think that a lot of these guys have track records and teams and other managers are smart enough to know that the situation is what it is here. We haven’t been a prolific offensive team by any means.

“So I think these guys, a lot of them are proven veterans who can produce offense and score goals and help a team. I think teams other teams are aware of that and kind of are taking our situation into account.”

Grier said he’s open to re-signing Kahkonen, whose individual statistics and advanced metrics are vastly improved over last season. His save percentage has gone up from .883 in 2022-2023 to .902 this season, and his goals saved above expected numbers have also risen dramatically.

Kahkonen, who turns 28 in August, is in the final year of a two-year, $5.5 million contract. If the Sharks do not re-sign him, they might have to search outside the organization for a replacement, as it is unclear whether any of the three goalies with the Barracuda are ready for full-time NHL roles.

Grier credited Kahkonen for the amount of work he’s put into his game since last season.

“Kaapo and (Blackwood), they have a really good relationship and it seems like they’ve got a bond and they’ve helped each other kind of manage the workload,” Grier said. “We’re open to (re-signing Kahkonen) and keeping an open mind to all things. At the same time, I’ve got to do what I think is best for the organization long term.”

The Sharks, per CapFriendly, are projected to have over $8.6 million in salary cap space by the trade deadline. Asked if the Sharks might try to leverage that space to help facilitate a trade between two other teams, Grier noted that he only has one retention spot left after the Sharks kept money on their books in the Karlsson and Brent Burns trades.

“So that kind of limits us a little bit and there’s a chance we might have to use it in one of our own deals,” Grier said. ”So we’ll look at all those things if it means that we can add another asset, whether it’s taking on a player or a contract or something like that, to get us another pick or player, I’m definitely open to all those things.”

Grier, along with team president Jonathan Becher and Todd Marchant, the Sharks’ director of player development, faced a variety of questions from the few hundred season ticket holders invited to take part in the town hall-like discussion at SAP Center on Thursday.

A common concern was how long it might take before the Sharks emerge from the rebuild and become competitive again. Grier reiterated that he didn’t want to rush things or skip steps to get to the end goal, and noted that a little luck in the NHL’s draft lottery this spring wouldn’t hurt.

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Still, Grier said didn’t see the rebuild dragging on for an inordinate amount of time, and would like the Sharks to be competitive again within the next two or three years. The Sharks’ opponent on Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres, haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, and are on track to be on the outside looking in again this year.

“I don’t think any of us want to be buried at the bottom of the standings year after year,” Grier said. “In two or three years, hopefully, we can be a team that is pushing for the playoffs and hopefully grabbing a spot.

“With our development staff the job they do and the belief in the scouting staff that will keep drafting well and if we were fortunate enough to get a little luck with things then I don’t see any reason why in those two or three years we’re pushing for a playoff spot and starting to really tick up a turn.”

San Jose Sharks Director of Player Development Todd Marchant, far right, speaks next to, from left to right, radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky, president Jonathan Becher, and general manager Mike Grier at a Sharks365 member event at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)