The San Jose Sharks have re-signed pending restricted free agent Kevin Labanc to a four-year contract worth $18.9 million. The contract does not contain any trade protections. The 24-year old played in 70 games for the Sharks last season, tallying 14 goals and 19 assists.
“Kevin brings a rare level of offensive skill and creativity to our line-up and has established himself as a top-six forward in our league,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in the release. “His Game 7 playoff performance last season is one of the most iconic moments in Sharks history and is a perfect example of the impact he can have on a hockey game. Kevin has shown a consistent ability to perform at a high level in both the regular season and the playoffs and he will be a big part of our club in the coming years.”
The Game 7 performance that Wilson referenced was the five-minute power play in the third period of the 2019 First Round against the Vegas Golden Knights. Labanc had four points during the major penalty:
The $4,725,000 average annual value contract is back-loaded, graduating over the next to seasons to an eventual $5,875,000 total salary for the final two years.
“We made sure we structured this contract so that (Labanc) grows into it,” Doug Wilson said during media availability. “But there’s no doubt in our mind that he’s a 60-point-plus guy going forward for the next four years, and that’s what makes this deal to me very fair.”
To be clear, Labanc has never been a 60-point player in the NHL. He came closest in the 2019 season, racking up 17 goals and 39 assists. It was a contract year for him, and many suspected he’d earned a large pay day. Instead, a cap-crunched Sharks bridged the winger off his entry-level contract with a one-year, $1 million contract.
If $4.7 million feels like a lot, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of $1 million too much per year:
We projected 3 years at $3.8 million. At a 4-year term, we projected the same. Perhaps last year's loyalty got him a bonus. https://t.co/ZwPiYctlOF— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) October 10, 2020
That overpay is also a result of what was likely part of the bridge contract negotiations — help us out now, we’ll help you out when a few contracts fall off the books next year, an assumption Wilson didn’t out-right deny.
“Do you remember it? Yes, of course you do. We’ve done bridge deals over the years with a lot of our young players that have come though the system,” he said. “Now you have to negotiate a contract going forward.”
It doesn’t help much that the areas of the game where Labanc struggles — namely defensive lapses and not finishing on his chances — are just as flashy as the parts of the game that he excels at. And he struggled a lot last year; compare last year to his 3-year aggregate Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) from Evolving-Hockey:
“I know I’m a top-six forward in this league,” Labanc said to media on Saturday. “I know I can produce. I know I can be reliable defensively.”
Labanc is a good player, no doubt, but the biggest thing he’s lacked in his career so far is consistency.
“I’ve talked to (head coach Bob Boughner) and I think that he sees me as a top-six guy. I see myself as a top-six guy. I’ve got to make sure that I fulfill that role and make sure I’m putting the puck in the back of the net, but also I’m not giving up chances my own way.”
Theoretically, if Labanc continues to grow and defy expectations (he was a sixth-round pick by the Sharks in 2014 after scoring just 35 points in the OHL. The next season, he nearly tripled that with 107), the contract could look like a steal in the future. But that inconsistency is an ever-nagging concern.
That’s why it might be reassuring that Wilson is looking at changing the way the Sharks play hockey in a way that could be of benefit to Labanc. “You’re going to see us play a more attacking style that fits right into his wheelhouse. If I’m going to try and acquire players like (Labanc), that’s the type of ingredient I’m looking for. He’s shown us what he can do.”