Sharks season preview: Hertl future unclear

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the San Jose Sharks.

Coach: Bob Boughner (third season)

Last season: 21-28-7; seventh in Honda West Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs

3 KEYS

1. Hertl watch

Tomas Hertl‘s future will be influenced by how the Sharks perform with the 27-year-old forward in the final season of a four-year contract. San Jose has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons after qualifying in 14 of the previous 15 and may look to deal him ahead of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline on March 21 if it’s out of contention.

Hertl can be an unrestricted free agent after this season and said Sept. 24 he is open to taking less money to stay with the Sharks if they’re in position to win. He’s scored 323 points (151 goals, 172 assists) in 503 regular-season games, 42 points (24 goals, 18 assists) in 62 playoff games and helped San Jose reach the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I like that idea,” Hertl said. “You can go somewhere else, sign the maximum, maybe even too much, but you’re losing for the next eight years. I don’t want to be in this position.”

2. Goaltending

The Sharks are deciding between Adin Hill and James Reimer, if not a timeshare, and hope the goaltending will be better than the past three seasons when they finished either 30th or 31st in team save percentage. Hill was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 17. The 25-year-old signed a two-year contract Aug. 4 to avoid an NHL salary arbitration hearing after going 9-9-1 with a 2.74 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in an NHL career-high 19 games (17 starts) last season. Reimer is an 11-season NHL veteran signed to one-year contract July 28. He was 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games (21 starts) for the Carolina Hurricanes last season.

“They’re both aggressive goalies and they’re both fighters in the net,” Boughner said. “I’m not saying we didn’t have that before, but I think that energy and that presence of battling and fighting for every puck, fighting through traffic and things like that… I think that’s going to help us.”

3. Identity

Forwards Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano were signed to bring a work ethic Boughner said he hopes spreads to the rest of the Sharks. Bonino has clout as a 12-season NHL veteran and two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins (2016, 2017). Cogliano has played 100 postseason games and was with the Dallas Stars for a six-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Video: San Jose Sharks 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

Dylan Gambrell could be the fourth-line center. He earned trust defensively and killing penalties to get a one-year contract July 15 that prevented him from becoming a restricted free agent. He’s competing with Lane Pederson (trade with Coyotes) and Nick Merkley (trade with New Jersey Devils), the latter a right wing capable of playing center.

Most intriguing addition

Bonino provides character and an ability to win face-offs (52.8 percent for the Minnesota Wild last season). That should be a boost for the Sharks who were 24th in the NHL, winning 48.4 percent of their face-offs in 2020-21. He provides ideal support as the center on the third line behind Hertl and captain Logan Couture.

Biggest potential surprise  

Mario Ferraro is a maturing 23-year-old defenseman whose average time on ice last season increased to 22:26 per game in 56 games from 15:53 in 61 as a rookie. If Ferraro can flourish in a greater role, it will reduce the load on Brent Burns, 36; Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 34; and Erik Karlsson, 31.

Ready to break through

John Leonard can be the catalyst on an offense that was 25th in scoring (2.61 goals per game) and 29th on the power play (14.1 percent) last season, and without a player who’s scored at least 30 goals or 50 points since 2018-19. The 23-year-old forward scored 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 44 games as a rookie after leading the NCAA with 27 goals as a junior at the University of Massachusetts and becoming a top 10 finalist for the 2020 Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top men’s player in NCAA Division I ice hockey.

Fantasy sleeper

Forward Alexander Barabanov (undrafted on average in fantasy) scored seven points (three goals, four assists) in nine games for the Sharks last season after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barabanov played on the top line with valuable center Hertl down the stretch and has sneaky upside in deep leagues or off the waiver wire, especially with a chance to earn a first power-play role. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Evander Kane — Logan Couture — Kevin Labanc

Timo Meier — Tomas Hertl — Alexander Barabanov

John Leonard — Nick Bonino — Rudolfs Balcers

Andrew Cogliano — Dylan Gambrell — Matt Nieto

Mario Ferraro — Brent Burns

Nikolai Knyzhov — Erik Karlsson

Radim Simek — Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Adin Hill

James Reimer

NHL.com independent correspondent Chelena Goldman contributed to this report

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