What Went Wrong: Sharks Miss Playoffs for 4th Straight Year
The San Jose Sharks became the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention in 2023
16 teams will participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there are 16 teams that won't get that luxury. Every year, there has to be a first, and in spite of the immense ineptitude of the Anaheim Ducks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Chicago Blackhawks, this season's first elimination ended up going to the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are 31st overall in the NHL, yet it was their overtime loss to the only team with a worse record--the Blue Jackets--that did them in. San Jose lost, 6-5, thanks to Johnny Gaudreau going beast mode with five points (two goals, including the OT winner, and three assists).
The Sharks will officially miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which is their longest drought in franchise history. This was a team who was in the playoffs literally almost every year, but ever since their six game loss in the Western Conference Final in 2019, it's been nothing but bad times for the team. The Sharks have been suffering big time. The COVID-affected 2019-20 season saw them as one of seven teams who didn't qualify for the 24-team playoffs; even worse, they didn't even have a lottery pick because they traded their first round pick to Ottawa for Erik Karlsson. The shortened 2020-21 season saw the Sharks in last place in the localized West Division, while the 2021-22 season saw slight improvement (6th place in the Pacific Division) but still no playoffs.
But hey, at least Erik Karlsson's finally playing in the form they traded for, right?
The Erik Karlsson trade was quite a bad deal for the Sharks. I mentioned that the trade kept them out of the lottery as a result of their horrendous finish in the 2019-20 season. What I didn't mention was how Ottawa immensely benefitted from this. The pick that was gifted to Ottawa ended up being the third overall, which was used to draft Tim Stützle, who is currently one of the Sens' best players. Even worse, Karlsson went from one of the league's best defensemen to a huge liability due to his inability to stay healthy. However, this season, Karlsson is tearing it up, possibly on his way to 100 points. His 85 points (20 G/65 A) are not only leading the Sharks, they lead all defensemen this season. Karlsson is a big-time shoo-in to win his third Norris Trophy this year, but his resurgence has been the only bright spot for the Sharks in 2022-23.
All of the Sharks regulars have horrendous plus/minuses this season. Logan Couture leads the team with 24 goals, but he has a plus/minus of -20. Another one of their star players, Tomas Hertl, is also tearing it up, but is at -21. The aforementioned Karlsson is -12, Nico Sturm (a 2022 Stanley Cup Champion with the Avalanche) has 13 goals, but is at -9, while Alexander Barabanov has 45 points (14 G/31 A), but has the lowest plus/minus on the team: -26.
Which now brings me to my new favorite topic in the NHL: the salary caps.
The Sharks aren't over the cap, but even so, this team can't exactly just tear it down. My two favorite players on this team are Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl (though I also like Erik Karlsson and have become an Alexander Barabanov fan as well), and those two are in it for the long run. They're not going anywhere for a long time. Couture won't become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) until the 2027-28 season, which will see him at the age of 39, while Hertl is in the first year of an eight year extension he signed in March of 2022. He'll be a Shark until (at the earliest) the end of the 2029-30 season. So yeah, they're tied down for a long time. Same with Karlsson, he'll be a UFA at the 2027-28 season.
It should be interesting to see how the Sharks' offseason will play out, what deals they'll make, if any. Though I don't know it they'll become a playoff team overnight. Again, this current drought is their longest in team history--four straight seasons without playoffs. It could end up being more than that. Their best bet right now is the draft; Connor Bedard is the top prize this year, and the Sharks do have one of the worst records in the league. They are in good shape to end up with the #1 overall pick, with only the lottery deciding their fate in May.
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