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What if San Jose Sharks went all in on a rebuild and cratered for Connor Bedard?

It has been three seasons since the Sharks made the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it would take significant additions this summer for people to start projecting them as postseason participants in 2023.

There is a new general manager coming soon, but even when Doug Wilson Sr. announced he was leaving the organization and in subsequent interviews, the Sharks’ key decision makers have conveyed that owner Hasso Plattner has no appetite for a lengthy rebuilding project, or specifically for dismantling the roster and trying to lose in order to secure high draft picks.

What if a new GM was able to convince Plattner and team president Jonathan Becher that tearing it down to build back up is the best way forward for the organization? What would such an enterprise look like?

As we did Tuesday with the idea of trying to “smash and grab” the Stanley Cup, this is an exercise where everyone needs to suspend reality for a few minutes. To be clear, it would be extremely surprising if a new GM stood at a podium inside SAP Center or Sharks Ice in the coming weeks and declared that San Jose’s hockey team is ready to rebuild. Never say never, but this is pretty close.

The plan is simple: Tear down the current roster, and “build” a team that could contend … for the right to select No. 1 in the 2023 NHL Draft. In case you haven’t heard, the Next Big Thing is coming. Connor Bedard is the type of prospect that teams will tank for, even if no one in the NHL likes that word. He’s the next in line after Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews … with the potential to be a true franchise-changing player.

What makes the 2023 draft even more exciting is that Bedard is not alone. Cratering for Connor will be a big storyline this coming season, but The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler has already called Matvei Michkov the best Russian draft prospect since Alex Ovechkin. And even if the club that finishes with the worst record misses out on the two franchise players, Adam Fantilli could be a prototype No. 1 center, while Zach Benson, Charlie Stramel and Leo Carlsson could all be exciting options at No. 4.

It’s shaping up to be a hyped draft at the top. Mark this down right now: Some team that did not finish this past season in the bottom quarter of the league will get off to a slow start next year, potentially because of a key injury or two, and pull the plug on trying to compete for a playoff spot in order to get in on the chase for Bedard. If the Sharks stick with their current plan, but stumble out of the gate and/or have injuries early on, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for them, even with the mandate to keep pushing forward.

This is very much going to be intentional, though. We’re strip-mining the current roster and expecting to be bad for the next two seasons, at a minimum, but hopefully three at a maximum.

Here are some general rules for the exercise:

  • We’re not trading anyone with a no-movement clause (yet … more on that later).
  • Plattner has shown he will spend whatever is necessary, and has green-lit “buying” draft picks by taking on money in the past … so we’re going to assume that anything we believe will help expedite the rebuilding process is fair game.
  • Several key veterans will be moved … but we still want to be patient with the prospects. They don’t need to spend all year getting caved in by better teams, so we’re going to keep as many of the first-year guys with the Barracuda as possible (and supplement them with good AHL vets to hopefully make a deep Calder Cup playoffs run).

Here we go, with a process that might not look exactly like what most Sharks fans who want a rebuild think it would …

Part I: The tough conversations 

We’ve already established that we are suspending reality/shifting to an alternate dimension here, but just to make that clear: Trying to pull this massive overhaul this offseason would be a huge challenge. First, the Sharks need to hire a new GM. The draft is two weeks away and free agency is three.

To set this plan in motion, the new GM would need to start making phone calls — or try to get as many of the players and coaches together on a video call — like … immediately after the introductory news conference. Or before, even, if possible.

The message would need to be clear: The Sharks are going to rebuild. Players will be traded. Losses will pile up. The optimistic timeline is two long, lean years with positive progress in Year 3. Be happy if that is the case, but prepared for it to take another year or two, if needed, to do this right, and hopefully build a deep, talented core that can compete for a long time.

Make it clear that anyone, from the coaching staff to the stars to the depth players, who doesn’t want to ride out the lean years will be traded or released from their contracts without a sliver of negativity or ill will in the future. Also, make it clear that some guys who might want to stay won’t be able to because the business of blowing up a roster is not fun.

At this point, the new GM would need to ask Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic if they are willing to waive their no-movement clauses. The new GM would also need to ask Logan Couture and Brent Burns to consider expanding their list of teams the Sharks can trade them to beyond three teams.

The Sharks might need some cooperation from the veteran core to make this work. The GM would probably be wise to make it clear those players will be equal partners in their trade process — the club will find a team they want to play for, and within reason, make a deal work to get them there.

Part II: Tear it down 

At this point, we are going to assume that Hertl, Karlsson and Vlasic all decline to waive their NMCs. We didn’t really give them much time to think about it, and it would be made abundantly clear that tearing down the roster around them is totally fine. Also, if at some point in the near future, once they’ve seen what the roster will look like and once the losses start piling up, they can change their mind.

One quick note about these trades. You’ll notice a trend — we’re not looking for a lot of 2022 draft picks or NHL-ready prospects. Generally speaking, teams are more willing to part with better picks from future years. For example, a team willing to part with a 2022 third-round pick for a player in the next two weeks might also be OK with yielding a 2023 or 2024 second-round selection instead. Teams at the very beginning of a rebuilding process should take advantage of that. And we’ve got a brand-new GM who hasn’t had much time to sync up with the current Sharks staff and/or bring in anyone from the outside to help with this draft.

Let’s start with the easier deals to make.


James Reimer (Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today)

James Reimer

There should be a pretty healthy market for Reimer. He had a strong season for the Sharks, has a consistent track record and maybe most importantly can easily outperform his $2.25 million contract.

Potential suitors: Edmonton, Washington and Toronto, plus Colorado, Pittsburgh and Minnesota depending on what transpires.

Targeted return: A conditional 2023 second-round pick that becomes a first if Reimer’s team wins two rounds in the 2023 playoffs.

Alexander Barabanov

He has 46 points in 79 games with the Sharks and is now signed to a two-year contract at $2.5 million per season. He’s also shown that he fits nicely next to San Jose’s best forwards.

Potential suitors: Any team short on cap space and also short one top-nine forward; could be a replacement for players lost from contenders like Colorado, Calgary and Florida.

Targeted return: A conditional 2024 third-round pick that becomes a second if Barabanov plays in a predetermined number of playoff games between 2023 and 2024.

Now let’s move on to the tougher ones.

Timo Meier 

This would be San Jose’s best chance to collect a big haul. The other deals are all as much about chasing Bedard as they are collecting future assets. That also means there is a lot of pressure to get a lot back for Meier, who was one of the best wingers in the NHL last season and is on a team-friendly contract for one more season (before it’s time for him to get PAID).

Meier is young enough to still be a valuable player on the other side of this rebuild, but he’s the first guy on our list that is connected to the NMC guys. If Hertl and Karlsson waived their NMCs and the Sharks were able to trade them in the next few weeks, then keeping Meier (if he’s willing to stick it out) would be more realistic. As it stands, keeping those guys around and Meier would be risking the chance of the team being “too good” — for this to be a good plan, the Sharks have to be bad in 2022-23. Very bad, in fact.

Potential suitors: Half of the league, but teams that can fit a $6 million star this year with flexibility to fit a $9-10 million star in the years after that will move to the front of the line.

Targeted return: A top-three protected 2023 first-round pick (every first-rounder traded in 2023 should be protected) or unprotected 2024 first-round pick, a strong prospect who is not ready to play NHL games in 2022-23 and potentially another future pick that would be either a second- or a third-round selection depending on the quality of the prospect. For example, if this trade is made after the 2022 draft a team picking in the 21-30 range might include that player along with the 2023 or 2024 first. But if the prospect included isn’t a first-round caliber player, then the Sharks would/should ask for a third asset.

Brent Burns 

Some teams will likely be scared off by the three years remaining on Burns’ contract, but he did just lead the NHL in minutes played and he had 54 points. It did seem like he might have left the door cracked just a smidge when asked about being open to chasing a championship elsewhere at the end of this past season, though the exact wording of his answer was pretty vague. Would be open to doing so if he knew the Sharks are trying to be bad for the next 2-3 years? They’d hope so, in this scenario.

Potential suitors: It might just be the three teams on his list. His offseason home is in Texas. And Dallas might have a big hole on the right side of defense if John Klingberg leaves. And the Stars did pretty well the last time they added a veteran player from San Jose. And they just hired Peter DeBoer, Burns’ former coach.

Targeted return: No salary retained and get him to a place he wants to be. The new GM would definitely like to keep those three salary retention spots open. That’s a priority. Getting less back in this trade is OK, particularly if it means improving the return in a future deal. A mid-round pick would be fine.

Logan Couture  

Couture was more emphatic with the desire to finish his career in San Jose at the end of the season. This is a tough spot, both for him and the organization. It would be a lot easier if one of two things happens: 1) Hertl waives his MNC or 2) Couture changes his mind about wanting to stay because the full-scale rebuild is coming.

If Hertl is OK with being traded, then the Sharks could keep Couture. One almost certainly has to go if the goal is to finish at or near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Potential suitors: Just like Burns, it might only be three teams. A playoff team that loses a key center would make sense (Pittsburgh might lose Evgeni Malkin, Washington might have to put Nicklas Backstrom on LTIR for the season, Boston if Patrice Bergeron retires but the club decides against rebuilding, etc.)

Targeted return: While Couture is five years younger than Burns, a five-year commitment left on his contract might make even more teams uneasy about trading for him. The Sharks could eat some of it, but again — no salary retained is very important here. Couture is still a productive, two-way player and has been one of the best playoff performers of his generation … but San Jose could need to add a sweetener to make this trade happen. If it came down to retaining $2 million for each of the next five years or including Daniil Gushchin, Tristen Robins or a second-round pick in the deal, the latter would likely be preferred.

Part III: Use the cap space 

With those five players removed from the roster and the club’s RFAs all signed to reasonable deals — we’re going short-term with all of them, because it’s not clear that Mario Ferraro, Kaapo Kahkonen and company are going to be key players for the next great Sharks team on this new timeline — that leaves the club well below the salary cap ceiling. It also leaves us below the cap floor, but that’s OK … it’s time to absorb some bad contracts from other teams and collect more future assets.

There are about 15 players out there that teams trying to compete next season would probably like to shed to open up more cap space. As the Coyotes have been doing for a few years, the Sharks would now be in a position to help, for a fee.

Two guidelines for this — no contracts of more than two years (don’t want one of these things around when it might be time to start moving up in the standings again) and nothing that isn’t worth at least a third-round pick as a sweetener. It would also be nice if these guys can still play a little, because if they do actually have bounce-back seasons they can be flipped at the trade deadline. And this is why those three salary retention trade slots could be important.


Jason Zucker (AP Photo / Matt Slocum)

Jason Zucker and a 2023 second-round pick from Pittsburgh for a 2023 seventh-round pick 

Zucker has one season left on his contract at $5.5 million. The Penguins would like to keep free agents Kris Letang and Malkin. That would be easier without Zucker’s money.

There could also be a deal that involved Hertl or Couture if Malkin is already gone by the time this transaction is completed. At some point, the Penguins might ease off the throttle when it comes to trading away draft picks, but if this deal gave them a chance to up their offers to Malkin and/or Letang and keep them, it’d be worth it.

Zucker is going to slot right in on San Jose’s top line and first power play. Play the heck out of him, and then plan to retain half his cap hit in a deadline deal. If he has a decent season and only costs a contender a prorated portion of $2.7 million, the Sharks could get another second- or third-round pick out of this.

Tyler Myers, Danila Klimovich and a 2024 second-round pick from Vancouver for a 2024 seventh-round pick

Myers has two years left on his contract at $6 million. That’s a lot of cap space, and it’s $11 million in real dollars owed as well (Zucker is $5.2 million). The Canucks could really use some flexibility, with contract extensions needed between now and the start of 2023-24 for J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

Wheeler rated Klimovich as Vancouver’s No. 2 prospect in January, but it’s one of the shallowest pools in the league. He fits this Sharks rebuilding plan because he’s 19 and definitely needs another year or two at the AHL level. Myers would essentially replace Burns, though he’s certainly not playing 25-plus minutes a night.

There are some other names to consider. Florida’s Patric Hornqvist, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Calgary’s Sean Monahan are all on the last year of a hefty contract. For now, those two guys are enough to bring the Sharks comfortably above the salary cap floor and those teams seem like they could be desperate enough for the cap space to make a deal like these.

Part IV: Just … not win, baby  

So what do we have left at this point?

The three expensive guys with NMCs, a couple of other hardworking veterans, a couple of guys who just got salary dumped and a lot of young players. Here’s what the opening-night lineup could look like:

LEFT WINGCENTERRIGHT WING

J. Zucker ($5.5M)

T. Hertl ($8.14M)

K. Labanc ($4.725M)

N. Gregor ($1.25M)

T. Bordeleau ($916.667K)

R. Balcers ($1.55M)

J. Dahlen ($2M)

N. Bonino ($2.05M)

S. Reedy ($842.5K)

M. Nieto ($850K)

S. Chmelevski ($950K)

J. Leonard ($950K)

J. Gadjovich ($875K)

J. Viel ($750K)

LEFT DEFENSERIGHT DEFENSEGOALTENDING

M. Ferraro ($2.5M)

E. Karlsson ($11.5M)

K. Kahkonen ($2.5M)

M-E. Vlasic ($7M)

R. Merkley ($863.333K)

A. Hill ($2.175M)

N. Knyzhov ($850K)

T. Myers ($6M)

J. Megna ($762.5K)

This team would likely have a lot of trouble scoring goals. Kahkonen and Adin Hill could both be capable NHL goaltenders. If one of them really got on a heater, it would probably be wise to shop him — both to keep the win total low and to keep stocking up on futures.

At some point, Hertl and Karlsson might decide they’re ready to move on. Hertl would be a relatively easy trade to make, though it might make sense to wait until the following offseason when more teams would have space to fit him in. Karlsson would be trickier, and would almost certainly involve retaining some cap space (the other reason why not using a retention slot in those Couture/Burns deals was so important). For the next two seasons at least, a rebuilding Sharks team is probably fine with keeping Vlasic around. A buyout or a salary retention trade just doesn’t make sense when they can be patient.

This roster doesn’t include William Eklund or a few other first-year pros. It probably shouldn’t include Bordeleau, either. If he scuffled at any point because asking him to handle No. 2 center duties at this level this early in his career might backfire, moving him down to the Barracuda for part or all of the season wouldn’t be the worst idea.

We asked The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to input this rebuilding roster into his projection model. The result was 70 points, comfortably among the bottom five teams in the league.

That is a good start, but finishing with 70 points isn’t going to get you the best odds to land Bedard. A couple of injuries might knock that total down. A Hertl trade definitely would. Nick Bonino, Matt Nieto and Zucker would all be pending UFAs and could be dealt before the deadline.

Everyone should expect a couple of teams to be really bad next season. Arizona looks like an obvious candidate. Seattle could be as well if the Kraken stay patient. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the tactics deployed by Arizona, Buffalo and Edmonton in 2014-15 when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were the prizes for putrid results.

This Sharks team would have the potential to be really bad. The Barracuda might be really good, and that would be a way to sell hope during a dark period for the big club.

The following season might be a little better, with a bunch of promotions for young players. But another long season and another high pick in 2024 would be the expectation. After that, a new core could emerge. There will be plenty of risk involved — several teams have tried this and been stuck in rebuilding mode for much longer than expected.

But if the Sharks tried to sell this to the fan base, just look at the two teams still playing for inspiration.

Tampa Bay selected Steven Stamkos at No. 1 and Victor Hedman at No. 2 in back-to-back years. Andrei Vasilevskiy came along two years later, with the No. 19 pick, which the Lightning had traded for at the deadline because they weren’t quite done rebuilding despite a surprise run to the 2011 Eastern Conference final. Nathan MacKinnon (No. 1), Gabriel Landeskog (No. 2) and Cale Makar (No. 4) are all homegrown stars for the Avalanche, but there were plenty of long nights and losses needed to land those core players.

Maybe in one of those alternate universes that Dr. Stephen Strange has traveled to, a full-scale rebuilding project is the best path back to the Stanley Cup Final for the Sharks as well.

(Photo of Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Timo Meier: John Hefti / USA Today)

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