The Sharks called up Kevin Labanc on Monday morning, setting up what could be an interesting chain reaction if the rookie sticks with the NHL club. Let’s operate under the assumption Labanc bursts onto the scene and becomes a regular in the Sharks’ lineup. Now what?
Two of the following players will be scratched if Labanc plays: Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels and Micheal Haley. Let’s assume the Sharks are smart enough to scratch Haley and send him to the American Hockey League. That gives San Jose about a half million in cap space according to capfriendly.com.
That leaves the Sharks with a couple difficult decisions. Who plays between Nieto and Wingels? What will the team do with Dylan DeMelo? He’s not good enough to crack the Sharks’ lineup but he’s also waiver eligible and will certainly be claimed if San Jose exposes him.
If I ran the Sharks (I know, scary) I would send Wingels to the press box and play Nieto on the fourth line with Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney. That gives Labanc a spot on the third line with Patrick Marleau and Tomas Hertl. The next move is finding a trade partner for DeMelo so San Jose can maximize his value.
Right now the Sharks have a bit of a glut in the forward department and while I’m sure they’d love to move Wingels’ contract I just don’t see that as a possibility. His production doesn’t reach the money he’s being paid and I don’t see another team taking that on, even as an expiring contract.
That makes Wingels the best candidate to sit in the press box. The Sharks could expose him to waivers but I assume he’d clear them and San Jose is better off having him as the 13th forward over Haley, who has proven to a fine AHL player. It seems Nieto’s stock has never been lower with the Sharks and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him scratched instead of Wingels (though I think it would be a mistake).
This all rests on Labanc actually sticking with the team of course. That’s no guarantee as he’s only played six professional games, all in the AHL. San Jose can call him up and send him down as many times as it wants this year because he is not yet waiver eligible, so even if Labanc doesn’t make the squad right away he could still come back later in the year.
Of course this all gets substantially more interesting if both Labanc and Meier are on the team by Christmas. That would likely mean waiving Wingels (or Nieto, I suppose) and would only save the Sharks about $100,000 in cap space. That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. For now, the Sharks will have to make a slightly difficult decision if Labanc sticks — though I’m sure it’s one they hope they have to make.