Top San Jose Sharks top storylines for 2023-2024: Will one end in Celebrini?

San Jose Sharks’ questions for 2023-2024: Do they sign Anthony Duclair or trade Logan Couture? Will attendance improve, and can they win the NHL Draft Lottery?

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Those who follow the San Jose Sharks can see that the organization has been trying to put some future building blocks in place for the last year or two.

Forwards Thomas Bordeleau and William Eklund, both drafted in 2020 and 2021, will begin the season in the NHL. Defensive prospects Henry Thrun, Shakir Mukhamadullin, and Nikita Okhotiuk, all acquired in trades last season, are all 22 or younger and have upside.

Will Smith, Filip Bystedt, Quentin Musty, Mattias Havelid, and Cameron Lund are recent early-round draft picks who are expected to be in San Jose within the next one to three years. There’s also the possibility of bringing in an elite forward prospect like Macklin Celebrini or Cole Eiserman next year.

However, the possibility of a bright future cannot obscure the real possibility that the Sharks will be the worst team in the NHL this season.

The Sharks have lost their leading goal scorer (Timo Meier), point producer (Erik Karlsson), and winningest goalie (James Reimer) from last season’s team, which finished 22-44-16, the NHL’s fourth-worst record. The Sharks are expected to not only miss the playoffs, but also finish near the bottom of the league’s 32-team standings.

In other words, another year of upheaval is on the way, with the roster for next season possibly bearing only a passing resemblance to the 2023-24 squad.

“We’re obviously a team that’s in transition, so, naturally, there’s going to be a lot of new faces moving in and out every year,” Nico Sturm, the center for the Sharks, said. “Last year at the (trade) deadline, there was a lot of movement.” Depending on how we do this year, it could happen again, and then again the following summer.

“That’s just the nature of where we’re at as an organization.”

Here are five Sharks storylines to look out for this season.

Eklund’s advancement

It’s one thing for Eklund to get his season started in the NHL. It’s quite another for him to stay in the league for six months and have a season that convinces people he can be a top-six forward for years to come.

The Sharks took their time developing Eklund, returning him to Sweden in 2021 and starting him in the AHL last season. Now he has a chance, at least to begin, to play in the NHL for an entire 82-game season. If he is successful, the Sharks will have one less question to answer as their rebuild continues. Other recent draft picks will need to develop into elite forwards to pick up the slack.

But the Sharks appear to have found the right player, as Eklund demonstrated in camp the same qualities that propelled him to the seventh overall pick two years ago: excellent hockey sense, elite playmaking ability, competitiveness, and tenacity. Now it’s just a matter of doing it for an entire season.

Bordeleau falls into the same category, as the Sharks would like to see him develop into a reliable middle-six center over the next few years to aid in the rebuild.

“There will be shifts where you do not touch the puck. “Are you still a good player when that happens?” Sharks head coach David Quinn stated. “That’s a challenge for a lot of young players, and it’s a challenge for both (Bordeleau and Eklund) that if you don’t touch the puck during a shift, are you an effective player?” That’s what a hockey player does.”

Should I sign or sell?

Mike Grier, the team’s general manager, is expected to face some difficult decisions regarding his pending unrestricted free agents. Does he keep forwards like Anthony Duclair and Alexander Barabanov or trade them for valuable assets? He has until March 8th to make a decision.

Grier did not rule out re-signing either Duclair, 28, or Barabanov, 29, prior to training camp, giving the team more players to build around and fewer holes to fill. Duclair is keeping his options open after Barabanov stated his desire to remain in San Jose. Grier’s decision will most likely be influenced by how both players perform, whether they can reach agreements that are beneficial to the organization, and what other teams may offer in terms of a trade.

Forwards Kevin Labanc and Mike Hoffman, goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, and defensemen Radim Simek and Jacob MacDonald are also pending UFAs.

Hoffman is likely to be traded, especially if he has a good start to the season, and Labanc will be available. However, the Sharks only have one salary retention spot left after utilizing the other two in the Karlsson and Brent Burns trades, and Grier may be forced to keep money on the books in order to move Hoffman or Labanc, who have cap hits of $4.5 million and 4.725 million, respectively.

Couture’s Future, Hertl

Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl understand the Sharks’ current situation, but it doesn’t make being a part of a rebuild any easier to swallow. Will they want to follow Burns, Meier, and Karlsson out the door, or will they be content to wait for better times, possibly as soon as the 2025-2026 season?

Couture, 34, has stated that he wants to stay with the Sharks and be a part of the solution, but he also stated that he does not want to finish the remainder of his contract, which expires after the 2026-2027 season, without making another playoff appearance. That contract includes a modified no-trade clause that states he will only accept a trade to one of three teams.

Hertl stated at the start of training camp that he does not want to consider his long-term future in San Jose and instead wants to focus solely on this season. Hertl’s contract is for another seven years and includes a full no-movement clause this season and next.

Grier stated that he is not looking to move either Hertl or Couture, but would listen if either of them approached him about joining a more competitive team. To begin with, trading either one or both would have to make sense for the Sharks.

Attendance at the Tank

For the first 25 years or so of SAP Center’s existence, the Sharks drew hundreds of sellout crowds. That is no longer true. There were only 18 announced crowds of 17,000 or more at the Shark Tank last season (capacity was 17,562).

The Sharks averaged just 13,912 fans per game last season and were the only team in the NHL to play to less than 80 percent of capacity as they headed for a fourth straight year without a playoff spot. The Sharks still have their diehard fans, but when it comes to purchasing season tickets, many prefer partial plans over full-season packages.

The Sharks had sold approximately 9,500 full-season equivalents as of May. Aside from a 41-game regular season package, two 20-game packages, four 11-game packages, or five eight-game packages are full season equivalents.

Can the Sharks re-establish the same level of local support they had when playoff appearances were the norm? As difficult as the hockey operations department faces, the business side may face an even greater challenge.

Lottery in the draft

Last season’s NHL draft lottery featured Connor Bedard as the top prize. Celebrini, a Vancouver native who spent two seasons with the Jr. Sharks from 2018 to 2020 after his father, Rick, joined the Warriors as director of sports medicine and performance, is this year’s winner.

Celebrini, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds, had shoulder surgery in May but is expected to return to the field for Boston University later this month. He checks almost every box in terms of ability.

Celebrini joining the Sharks would be a happy coincidence given his ties to San Jose, the Bay Area, and the Sharks organization, with Quinn and Grier both proud BU graduates. If the Sharks finish with the fewest points in the NHL this season, they have a 25.5 percent chance of drafting first overall, giving them a chance to land their most important piece yet.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply