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Can the Sharks make room for free agent signings?

You know which one.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders reacts in the third period against the Florida Panthers during their game at Barclays Center on March 26, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

With several players pending new contracts this summer, Doug Wilson has made his first move in re-signing Evander Kane to a seven-year deal worth $7 million annually. There’s an argument to be made that both the term and cap hit are simply too high, and even taking into consideration market value, something along the lines of $6 million AAV over six years would have been fairly appropriate for all parties involved.

Moreover, this deal marks Doug Wilson’s fourth recent player re-signing that involves big money and long term, which projects uncertainty, particularly when players will inevitably drop in production with age. While Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s style of play and hockey smarts should make his eight-year, $7 million AAV contract well worth it, the additional monster contracts of Brent Burns and now Kane has the Sharks fairly top-heavy with aging or injury-prone players and leaves the team in a precarious position in about four or five years time, despite the fact that the league’s cap is projected to go up to around $80 million next year.

Beyond talks of Wilson’s best impression of Oprah’s audience giveaways (“You get an albatross contract! YOU get albatross contract! EVERYBODY gets an albatross contract!!!”), Kane’s market value, or how this affects how the Sharks’ signing of Samuelsson (nice of you to still be reading, FtF old-timer), the key criticism of the Kane deal is that the Sharks will now no longer be able to make a run at the free-agent catch of the decade in John Tavares this July.

Tavares should be the Sharks’ number one priority. Scenarios that involve a good chance of a franchise player number one center (something the Sharks happen to need at the moment) hitting free agency do not come around very often, and when they do, it’s generally a good idea to make the most of the opportunity.

But assuming Tavares has justifiable skepticism that new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello can build a competitive team around him as he enters his prime and doesn’t want to deal with the terrible two-arena situation in Long Island and decides to hit the open market, there is still a fairly straightforward path for Doug Wilson to sign Tavares to the likely seven-year, $11 million deal that he’s looking for — even after the Kane signing. And he would be able to fit in Joe Thornton, to boot.

Step 1: Trade or Buyout Paul Martin

If Wilson is able to trade Martin to a team with ample cap room looking for some veteran guidance and leadership for a young defensive corps, that would be ideal — and quite surprisingly not outside the realm of possibility, after Martin demonstrated his ability to still be a serviceable third pairing defenseman following Joakim Ryan’s injury late in the season.

But if there aren’t any biters, as there weren’t when Wilson looked to move him midseason, San Jose has another option. A buy out for Martin’s last year means a cap hit of just over $2 million instead of the would-be $4.85 million.

Step 2: Trade Mikkel Boedker

Step 2 is a tad more difficult, but remains very plausible. Boedker’s second half of the season proved him to be a worthwhile speedy middle-six winger, with him potting a decent 12 goals from mid-January to the end of the season. Trading his remaining two years at $4 million per season for a third- or fourth-round draft pick shouldn’t be as difficult as it would have been to do at this point last year. But with his reputation as a power-play specialist, there should be a good number of teams willing to trade a mid-round pick for a winger whose contract ends just as he hits 30.

Step 3: Trade Melker Karlsson

Karlsson’s a solid depth player who sacrifices and plays in the dirty areas while possessing a decent scoring touch, with an annual cap hit of $2 million over two more seasons. He’s still definitely expendable, with players like Barlcay Goodrow and Marcus Sorensen showing their worth this season and Rudolphs Balcers and Dylan Gambrell waiting in the ranks. There should be teams interested in taking him on in exchange for a late round pick.

Step 4: Re-sign Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney to team-friendly deals; Re-sign DeMelo

Here’s the trickiest step. Hertl showed signs of being a superstar in the making this past post-season. There’s a strong case to be made that he’s actually far more valuable to the Sharks than Kane. He is the third leg of the indispensable triad with Vlasic and Couture that makes this Sharks team competitive. If the Sharks are able to re-sign him at $5.2 million AAV, that would undoubtedly be a steal. Matt Cane of Hockey Graphs has predicted a three-year, $4.735 million AAV contract, but also has a five-year contract predicted at a $5.28 million AAV, which sounds like a Wilson contract and something the Sharks can afford.

Then, he has to re-sign Tierney at no more than $2.8 million for a few years. Cane has Tierney at a two-year, $2.112 million AAV contract, but it’s not unlike Wilson to overpay a bit. While Tierney definitely was one of the young Sharks who took a major step forward this past season, he may have lost a bit of stock with his slow finish to the season and carryover of that in the post-season’s two rounds, so it’s possible for Wilson to get him even cheaper.

A DeMelo re-signing at $1.25 million over two years is close to Cane’s $1.18 million prediction.

Step 5: Abstain From the Perennial Annual Face-puncher Signing

Don’t do it, Doug! Don’t do it! I know you want to and feel compelled to one of these every off-season but now is really not the time! You’re almost there! You’ve bought out Martin, traded Hot-Bod and the Melk-Man for a mid and late rounder, and re-signed Tierney and Hertl to team-friendly extensions! Now is not the time to screw over the chance of landing Tavares by signing Ryan Reaves to a four-year deal worth $2 million annually! Don’t do it!

Step 6: Sign Tavares — You Win!

I can’t believe he did — wait. He really didn’t sign a grit guy? Congratulations — we’ve won Tavares!

There you have it. Assuming the projected team cap increase to $80 million takes place, the aforementioned five steps lay the groundwork for offering Tavares a seven-year, $11 million AAV deal.

Bonus step: Re-sign Jumbo

Yep. Bring back Thornton to send him off into retirement’s sunset with a Stanley Cup hoisted in his hands. Picture it now: No. 19 finally hoisting the Cup after all these years and passing it to his JT successor in No. 91 — the metaphorical meanings derived from that image would be endless.

Last summer, Joe Thornton was willing to take a discount if it meant the Sharks would be able to keep Patrick Marleau. While Cane has Thornton projected at a one-year, $5.415 million AAV, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll take a paycut to do a victory lap with John Tavares. Coming off his second knee surgery and about to hit 39-years-old, the open market might be a little cautious. Wilson may have to move a few more pieces to bring Joe back, but with young guys waiting in the wings, unloading an extra replacement-level player or two might not be a horrible idea, especially in exchange for draft picks that the Sharks desperately need.

The problem with this scenario will come the following year. Both Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are set to hit free agency after this season. With Couture likely to command at least $8 million and Joonas Donskoi, Timo Meier, and Joakim Ryan all due for modest raises, in this scenario of Kane and Tavares, there’s a good chance that the Captain doesn’t come back, making this the last year the Sharks will be able to make a run at the Cup with both of the Joes.

The flip side to that, is that the Sharks would be giving up a 35-year-old for a team that will have the pieces to continue making deep playoff runs for the next several years. Not a bad trade-off.

Now let's all drool over the idea of Teal Tavares:

Getty Images | Edit courtesy of JD Young, SB Nation