San Jose Sharks: Tentative CBA extension will cause tough choices

San Jose Sharks (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
San Jose Sharks (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The San Jose Sharks could face some difficult decisions following the tentative CBA extension.

The NHL and NHLPA have reportedly agreed on the framework to resume the season and extending the current CBA an additional four years, which is a relief but could ultimately cause alterations to the San Jose Sharks‘ lineup.

With the season in the rearview mirror for the Sharks, at least some relief is throughout the entire league after an extension got completed on the current collective bargaining agreement.

If ratified by owners and players, operations will run smoothly through 2026 as the current CBA expires after the 2021-22 season.

Given the uncertainties still surrounding the world with COVID-19, both the NHL and NHLPA made a smart decision in negotiating the CBA while working on restarting the league with the playoffs.

Unlike the bickering seen by MLB with a commissioner implementing a money-grab 60-game season, the NHL is looking at the long-term growth of the sport through successful negotiations.

But peaceful labor relations are potentially going to make life difficult for Doug Wilson as the salary cap will remain at $81.5 for next year.

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San Jose Sharks’ owner, Hasso Plattner, is not afraid to spend up to the limit, but for Wilson wanting to reset the roster into contenders may cause him to change course.

As the roster sits currently, 13 players are under the Sharks’ payroll for next season, according to Erik Karlsson is the biggest hit with his extension at $11.5 million annually with Brent Burns, and Logan Couture tied for second at $8 million apiece.

Forward depth became a glaring weakness before training camp open and got worse as the Sharks never got in sync throughout the campaign.

Burns is a likely trade candidate despite a three-team movement clause or perhaps could depart to the Seattle franchise in the expansion draft if he left exposed.

Between Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a move must be made by Wilson to free up salary-cap space. Ryan Merkley appears to be rounding into form defensively and could likely appear on the Sharks towards the end of next season.

Vlasic must agree to waive his no-trade clause for a trade to happen. He supposedly opened the door to Montreal, but a deal never got done. Wilson may likely explore the option again but possibly on where the Sharks are in the standings when next season begins.

Fan attendance is pivotal for NHL teams and the league for revenue. Fan favorites undoubtedly help with jersey and ticket sales, and one particular Shark may fetch a decent return. Tomas Hertl is phenomenal at full strength and perhaps the best player on the ice for the Sharks.

But given his injuries, his potential may never come into fruition and perhaps could still be valuable to other clubs. A Hertl trade is unlikely to happen, but given the history of Wilson pulling blockbuster moves, the current salary cap situation is forcing his hand.

Both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton expressed interest in playing another year. Marleau could be back, but Thornton’s status is a mystery.

After the trade deadline, Thornton expressed his displeasure in not getting traded to a contender. For the veteran, this is not the first time being frustrated with Wilson.

Thornton’s outcome will be a direct result of the Sharks’ roster if Wilson can make good on his promise of putting together a lineup built to contend for a Stanley Cup. Two 40-year-olds are not ideal, and Wilson may have to see Thornton leave San Jose, given the situation.

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The San Jose Sharks could find some reinforcements in the AHL.

A glimmer of hope rests on the development of the San Jose Barracuda. Sharks’ management made a huge gamble rebuilding the farm team with just prospects. The youngest team in the AHL, the Barracuda, finished at the bottom of the standings.

Year two of the rebuild is going to be under the microscope in the course Wilson decides to keep the Sharks consistent contenders. Along with the salary cap freeze, an exciting subject of the CBA extension is participation in the Olympics.

The NHL missed out on an opportunity to grow hockey by not sending players to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Owners and the league did not want a break from the season and not getting the assurances from the IOC.

A return to the Olympics is possible in 2022 and 2026 if the NHL and the IOC agree to terms.

Seattle benefits significantly from the announced extension with the franchise set to begin to play in the 2021-22 season. Both the NHL and NHLPA originally agreed not to reopen CBA talks, and the extension ensures no lockout, which significantly hurt the league (2004-05 no season, 2012-13 short season).

Before reaching an agreement, the return-to-play phases got approval with Edmonton and Toronto being the host sites. Strict guidelines are in place with protocols for testing.

As of now, the process is fragile, with not only the NHL but other leagues taking cautious steps in returning to action.

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Fears of another lockout are in the past, but the focus for Wilson is fixing the San Jose Sharks.

For the general manager, this is a crucial year as he may not get another opportunity if the Sharks fall short of expectations.