Which contracts will haunt the Sharks?

The team spent to the cap in 2020 and will miss the postseason. If the cap doesn’t grow, which contracts will hurt the most?

Salary cap concerns have never been bigger in the sports world than perhaps now, where every major sports league is looking at ways to compensate for losing out on revenue during the coronavirus pandemic. For the Sharks, these concerns are heightened and the situation worsened, but the team was heading toward a cap crunch at the very least after inking Erik Karlsson’s $11.5 million contract extension last year.

The league’s high-paid defender, however, shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame for the situation the Sharks find themselves in while staring down a static salary cap, ahead of what is likely going to be another weird and bad season in 2021.

Writer and analyst @JFreshHockey ranked the 15 worst contracts in the league, based on how they are likely to age, given the term and salary against the player’s age-based regression. You can read more on the methodology — which relies on familiar work, the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric by Evolving-Hockey, and Dom Luszczyszyn’s work at The Athletic, where he creates a cap value for wins — here, as well as the full ranking of all 15 contracts.

Their findings concluded that Sharks defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s contract is ... well, it’s basically the worst. Not basically. It’s the worst.

— or it will be. Something to keep in mind is that this is a projection. Some players (fingers crossed for you, Jumbo Joe) defy aging curves at every turn. Aging projections are limited by the fact that we are using past data to predict future events, but that’s the failure of any predictive analytics and doesn’t mean that they don’t have value.

If we look at what we have seen from Vlasic over his career compared to the last two years, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture:

What JFresh notes, and is shown pretty clearly in this career summary work by Micah Blake McCurdy at HockeyViz, is that Vlasic has has a rough go of things the last two seasons. The addition of Karlsson shook up the Sharks’ blue line and Vlasic hasn’t been able to find his game since, creating a negative (expressed through a positive number on the visualization) defensive impact at 5-on-5.

It’s also worth noting that for a long time, Vlasic was underpaid for the value he offered and the assumption is that $7 million a year through 2025-26 would help to mitigate that previous underpaid value. But considering his No Movement Clause doesn’t become a modified No-Trade Clause until 2023-24 — and even then, is still pretty limited, allowing just a three team trade list — the Sharks also expected Vlasic to maintain his levels of performance for at least a few more seasons. At this point though, he’s looking at an uphill battle just to not be a liability for the rest of his contract.

Of course, this contract was signed before the addition of Erik Karlsson, who has changed both the Sharks’ cap breakdown and the structure of the blueline — not to mention the expectation that the cap would rise every year, which was hardly the case last season and might not be the case for awhile — so that $7 million is going to be tighter than expected at signing.

That said, Vlasic is just two seasons into this contract extension at 33 years old. Maybe it was always going to be bad no matter what happened in the world or who else the Sharks signed.

It’s also worth noting that among JFresh’s honorable mentions was Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, which I’m tempted to contest is the actual worst contract on the team. He comes in at a $5.75 million average annual value through 2023-24, though the contract is front-loaded in terms of real dollars, meaning Hasso Plattner was out a cool $6.75 million for each of the last two seasons of Martin Jones. It also includes a modified NTC, with Jones submitting a three-team trade list, and there’s virtually no market for this exceptionally bad goaltender, which is kind of a very important position when it comes to overall team success. Vlasic, at least, still has the power of having played in the Olympics for Team Canada, and that makes general managers swoon, which means that should the Sharks try to move Vlasic, there could be some interest.

In general, the defense is bogging down the Sharks’ cap, including defender Brent Burns’ contract, though as long as he continues racking up points, there’s a perceived value, even with his defensive play aside. At 35 and signed through 2024-25 at $8 million with a modified NTC, his ability to maintain a high pace of play will come into question sooner than later, too.

There’s no question, though, that if Doug Wilson wants to right the ship, at some point they’ll have to lose some dead weight.