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Off-Season Mailbag: Martin Jones’ contract, reset vs rebuild & potential trades

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Your questions about a Martin Jones buyout, Doug Wilson’s decisions, UFAs and trades and more — Answered!

San Jose Sharks goaltender Alexei Melnichuk (1) makes a save during the San Jose Sharks game versus the Vegas Golden Knights on May 12, 2021, at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, CA. Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hi everyone!

The NHL off-season has been heating up, what with the Entry Draft on July 23 and 24, free agency on July 28, and what feels like a million trades. On Sunday, I put out a call for all of your off-season questions, and you did not disappoint! Let’s answer some of them.

Let’s start with the questions commented on Sunday’s post, and with perhaps the most important question of all: who the heck am I? (This question was a two-parter).

Q: “Also, uh, in the politest sense possible, who are you? Are you qualified to answer these questions or is this a random, unconnected fan like me speculating about the org?”

I get the confusion — I’m a new face to most of you! Hi, I’m Katherine Pitré, and while I’m new to SB Nation, I’ve been writing and reporting on hockey in both podcast and article form for a hot minute. You can find my first SB Nation article here, and my Twitter here! (I’m 100% qualified to answer these questions, don’t worry).

The other half of this question is about Doug Wilson’s insistence that the Sharks are in a reset, not a rebuild.

Q: “Now, so I don’t do the same thing: is DW legitimately trying to compete this season, or is he just saying that because the org and/or general fanbase is allergic to the word ‘rebuild’?”

Ah, the-rebuild-that-shall-not-be-named. It’s clear that neither Doug Wilson nor the veteran core are interested in spending the next five-plus years rebuilding, and I can’t blame them. Between the flat cap limiting the quality and amount of UFA signings the team could bring in, some players (like Martin Jones) who have underperformed recently, and a general disinterest by the players themselves to buy-in to a lengthy reset period, a true rebuild would be difficult to accomplish at this point in time.

It might make more sense for management to wait until the flat cap expires in 2026 and for some of the older and higher paid players to retire or sign somewhere else in future free agencies before investing the time and money into a proper rebuild.

The Sharks DO have to re-tool at least a little bit in order to both be competitive in the post-season and to prepare for the eventual rebuild. Strengthening the blue line, revitalizing goaltending and spending more time and energy on developing younger players and prospects are all reset moves the Sharks should be making this off-season.

This next user had some questions about Doug Wilson’s job and Martin Jones’s contract — a recurring theme for Sharks fans.

Q: “So why is Doug Wilson still the Sharks GM? Is Martin Jones contract being bought out?Is Martin Jones contract being bought out?”

I don’t see Doug Wilson going anywhere anytime soon — management is telegraphing him to be their choice to guide the Sharks through this reset. That being said, another lackluster season or two, and Wilson will be on his way out of San Jose.

As for Jones, there’s no word yet on whether or not his contract will be bought out, but I think it’s the more likely option than a trade. While Jones is on the young-ish side (he’s 31), it’s unlikely that he’ll improve the older he gets. His cap hit isn’t egregious compared to other goal-tenders in the NHL,even if he’s on the higher side for the Sharks at a 7.1% cap hit percentage. His cap hit and longterm contract plus three years of an 0.896 SV% isn’t going to excite another team looking for goal-tending, especially since fellow goal-tender Matt Murray’s redemption arc in Ottawa didn’t pan out the way the Senators hoped.

If the Sharks pursue trading him, they’ll have to sweeten the deal with prospects or draft picks — and if they’re going into a reset, those are both valuable assets to hold onto.

(Editor’s note: This was meant to go up prior to the news that Martin Jones would be bought out, which has now been confirmed)

Now, lets turn to the great people of Twitter.

There’s some big names still on the un-signed UFA list. For the Sharks, goaltending is their number one priority. Petr Mrazek is still available, and at 29 years old with a $3.125 million cap hit, he’s not a bad option, provided the Carolina Hurricanes don’t re-sign him now that they’ve traded Alex Nedelkovic to Detroit. Carolina could also flip Jonathan Bernier’s signing rights in a bigger trade to a team who as assets to give and a goaltender to replace, if they decide not to sign him. Continuing with the theme of ‘Carolina’ and ‘goaltending,’ former Sharks netminder James Reimer is also still available.

For defense, Alex Goligoski on a short-term deal, David Savard, Jake McCabe and Brandon Montour are all still available.

For forwards, Mattias Janmark and Erik Haula could be fantastic pick-ups for the Sharks.

As for trades, maaaybe Radim Simek? Trades themselves are hard to predict, but certain players who were left unprotected in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft that have a lower cap hit and some potential bounce-back seasons could be attractive assets to another team. Before Wednesday, probably not. But during the off-season and once the Jones contract is dealt with? It could be open season for the Sharks in the trade waters.

It might be a basic pick, but William Eklund. This draft was more of a wild-card than in years past because of limited scouting ability and many players having abbreviated or suspended seasons.

Even though Eklund played 40 games in the Swedish Hockey League for Djugårdens (and snagged 23 points in the process), European ice is different than NHL ice, even in non-pandemic times. It’s difficult to predict how well and how quickly he’ll acclimate to the NHL, and how seamless and soon his transition will be onto the Sharks roster. It can take younger players a while to settle in and get comfortable in the faster, more physical game in the NHL.

OOH, I love this choose-your-own-adventure type question. Right off the bat, the Sharks and Senators are in similar spaces of crawling towards playoff contention, but their team identities are pretty different. The Ottawa Senators are on the other side of a re-tooling effort and Tim Stützle is part of the young core the Senators are building. In contrast, the Sharks are just entering a reset, with an older core of veteran players who are uninterested in a rebuild. Both Eklund and Stützle are beautifully adaptable players with a lot of offensive upside and the sort of flexibility in their playing styles that mean they can react and adapt well on the ice.

Stützle ended the 2020/21 season with 12 goals, 17 assists and 29 points in 53 games, culminating in a -18 rating. For a young player with a ton of potential, that plus/minus rating is sure to improve next year. Stützle also has better speed and finesse than Eklund, but Eklund will be a better support system for the Sharks’ pre-existing forward lines. Eklund is a better fit for where the Sharks are at, and he should be able to slot into a pre-set role on the Sharks roster with no problem.

Short answer? Yes!

I think he’s more ready than most picks in the draft with his more robust SHL season experience. Coming directly from the SHL to the NHL is much more similar than transitioning from the NCAA to the NHL, so we can assume that he’ll probably adjust to the level of competition and pace of play quicker than other picks. That being said, it would be smart for Doug Wilson to start him in the minors briefly so he can adapt to his new surroundings and build up his confidence before jumping straight into an 82-game NHL season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eklund start in the pre-season with the Sharks, and then be reassigned to the Barracuda for the first few weeks of the regular season.

I bet they did it so someone else could get it tattooed on their knuckles. Are you considering getting a new tattoo, maybe?

Honestly, there’s definitely more pros than cons. There’s some financial concerns to buying out his contract for sure — if the Sharks buy it out, then they’ll have to pay off his contract for the next six seasons. While they’ll save an annual average of $3 million in cap space for the first three years, they’ll lose a little over $1 million per year in the following three years. The good news is that they save more than they lose in the long-run, and that the Sharks have more cap space wiggle room than other teams to somewhat-comfortably afford the buy-out.

It depends on what the Sharks intend to trade him for. He has a $6 million cap hit and two years left until the Sharks renegotiate with him as an RFA. In the 2020-21 season he had 12 goals, 19 assists for a total of 31 points in 54 games. Meier is expected to build upon last season’s performance and improve next year, I don’t see the Sharks giving up on him. Plus, I don’t see teams trading for him specifically — maybe if he were part of a Martin Jones trade as an additional piece? But the Sharks have the cap space for his contract and bigger problems to solve than revamping their forward lines, so I think he’ll probably stick around.

And on that note, that’s all the questions we have for today’s post!

You all did not disappoint for our first Off-Season Mailbag of this year. As pre-season games approach and training camp gets underway, I’ll be back for another Mailbag to answer your questions ahead of the 2021-22 season. Until then, thanks for you questions, and I’ll see you around!