As people discuss the future of former San Jose shark Evander Kane, the Sharks face an even bigger question: Thomas Hertle’s contract status and future.
The San Jose star forward will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the current NHL season, and there’s no guarantee he’ll want to return to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs the past two seasons, and likely won’t be. in this year’s playoffs. Hertl led the Sharks in scoring with 20 goals in 36 games.
The Sharks are currently fifth in the weak Pacific Division, but it’s a bit of a mirage; the reality is that the fourth-ranked Calgary Flames have three games in San Jose and sixth-ranked Edmonton is one point behind the Sharks , but the Oilers have two games in their hands. Likewise, the seventh-ranked Vancouver Canucks are four points behind San Jose, but the Canucks have two games left over the Sharks. By the end of the schedule, San Jose could easily drop to seventh in the Pacific. Only the expansion Seattle Kraken (24 points) could be worse than the Sharks.
If they do drop in the standings, the Sharks will be at or near the bottom of the standings for the third straight season. And general manager Doug Wilson — the personable, thoughtful general manager you see in hockey’s top leagues — is currently on leave for health reasons. As a result, it’s hard for Hertle to re-sign with the only NHL organization he knows of. The 28-year-old is in his prime, and he’s poised to get a big raise on top of this season’s $5.625 million. Of course, there will be a bid for his services. He will have a chance to join a team that currently leads and win the Stanley Cup.
If he stays in San Jose next year, where does he have to go back? Yes, there are some worthy players — forwards Logan Couture and Timo Meier, and defensemen Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all recognized talents — but the Sharks are without James Reimer and Adin Shee. An elite goalie duo like Ernest, and the bottom of their set of 12 forwards is a wasteland. Couture, Burns, Vlasic and Karlsson are all at least 31 years old. At the core is the back nine of their NHL career, and no one on the Sharks will replace what they bring to the lineup.
If he does choose to keep the Sharks, Hertle will have to carry a heavy load, both on offense and in the locker room. Hertle’s burden will increase as the likes of Couture (32), Burns (36), Vlasic (34) and Karlsson (31) start to decline in first-team status. Does he want that when he can go to work elsewhere, play a key but secondary role, and contribute more offense with better teammates? If he wants to go out, of course you can understand. He won’t be the first player to leave the team that drafted him. It is the competitive nature of players to be attracted to victory. This is not a guarantee for San Jose. It’s not how the Sharks used to be, but losing has consequences, one of which is that you’re less attractive as a destination for free agency — whether it’s a UFA from another team, or their own.
Hertl might prefer to stay near San Jose and try to be there when the Sharks take a turn and become the cup frontrunners again. But at this juncture in his career, Hertel should and probably is a businessman first. He can play this season and walk away with nothing. This must also play a role in shark management. Are you trading Hertl before the March 21 trade deadline? Who knows — maybe he’s on a short-term loan from a cup contender and he’ll be back in San Jose in the summer. Strange things happened. But one thing’s for sure: The spotlight will be on Hertle before he makes a long-term identity decision.
Stay in beautiful California and lose, or leave the Sharks and pick the new employer that best suits his needs? The choice is unclear, but it will become clear as the next few months develop. Either way, Hertle’s personal situation could soon come to a crossroads.