Figuring Out What the San Jose Sharks Should do with Kevin Labanc

Kevin LaBanc
NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 20: San Jose Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc (62) skates during the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the San Jose Sharks on February 20, 2020 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kevin Labanc signed his one year, $1 million contract just over a year ago. This means it’s time for Doug Wilson to make another decision about the young forward’s future. The forward had his worst season statistically after his breakout 56-point season last year. This makes figuring out Labanc’s a bit tricky this time around. Wilson signed Labanc to this ludicrous contract to help the San Jose Sharks current cap constraints. He figured that Labanc could be paid more after this season when he proved that he was worth a contract in line with other top-six players.

Labanc did everything but prove that this season, where he scored just 33 points in 70 games. That’s still good depth scoring and carries value, but it is not what the Sharks expected and needed from Labanc. The Sharks had the worst record in the Western Conference this season, so they know the current group cannot get it done. The Sharks are still up against the cap as well. Brent Burns makes $8 million, Marc-Edouard Vlasic makes $7 million, Martin Jones makes $5.75 million. Each of these players is over the age of 30 and is signed for four-or-more years.

The Sharks have many ways they can go with Kevin Labanc, depending on how they see themselves against the league. If the Sharks decide that their current group can contend, then they can try and sign Labanc to a cheap deal again. If they decide that they need to rebuild their ageing core, then Labanc could be an attractive commodity for contenders looking for middle-six winger depth. The San Jose Sharks have a decision to make when it comes to their future. Kevin Labanc is another huge part of that.

What do the San Jose Sharks do with Kevin Labanc?

There are 2 realistic options the Sharks have with Kevin Labanc. They can either trade him for future assets or resign him and make him a key piece of their offence. Before we look at these two options, however, we need to figure out Labanc’s value.

What is Kevin Labanc’s value?

Kevin Labanc is a 24-year-old right-shot winger. He can play either side and contributes to the Sharks powerplay as well. Labanc works very well with veteran centre Joe Thornton, and the two are often paired on a line together. Labanc broke out as a top-six forward for the Sharks in the 2018-19 season, scoring 56 points in 82 games. However, the 2019-20 season brought a huge regression for Labanc. Labanc scored just 30 points in 70 games for the Sharks. This is Labanc’s second-worst season statistically, with his rookie season being the only season with fewer points per game. 

If we take a deeper look at the numbers, a lot suggests that this year from Labanc was bad luck. Labanc’s on-ice possession numbers didn’t change at all this season. His Corsi percentage, shot percentage, expected goals percentage, and high danger chance percentage all stayed relatively close to what he normally produces. His goals percentage, however, drastically decreased. Labanc’s five on five goals percentage was just 35.64 percent, and he was almost doubled by the opposition in goals for while he was on the ice. Labanc’s high danger chance percentage was positive, as his team produced over 50 percent of high danger chances while on the ice. His high danger goals percentage, however, drops dramatically to 37.04 percent.

This points to poor goaltending and a lack of finishing by his linemates while he was on the ice. Labanc is producing chances for the Sharks, he’s just not getting the saves or finishes to give him normal goal percentages. We’re going to assume that this was a one-off season by Labanc and that his overall value is a top-six 50 point winger, who can score goals for you on the powerplay.

Signing Kevin Labanc

The most likely outcome is that the Sharks sign Kevin Labanc, as they need forward depth. Labanc is a crucial part of their overall offence, and it wouldn’t make much sense to let him leave. The Sharks already have a thin forward group, and the young rookies showed last season that they weren’t ready to step in and take over. Now that Kevin Labanc’s one year deal is up, he’s an RFA again. But what price should the Sharks pay to keep the young winger?

Based on the fact that the salary cap will not be rising for the next few years, and that Kevin Labanc has only has had one season at his full potential, it doesn’t make sense to sign him to a long term deal worth more than $6 million. That would just be too risky for a Sharks team that already has some long, bad contracts on their roster. A longer-term bridge deal would make the most sense for both sides here. Labanc would be able to prove he is worth over $6 million, and the Sharks will be able to fit him under their cap. 

For Labanc and his current production, a deal that is 3 years long and around $5 million makes sense. With Aaron Dell and Melker Karlsson going into free agency, it gives the Sharks just enough room to sign Labanc to that deal. Signing Labanc would also take a lot of pressure off the young forward to perform. This may have affected Labanc this season as well. It was the New Yorker’s first time having to perform well for a large contract.

Trading Kevin Labanc

The other option the Sharks have is to trade Kevin Labanc. This would help jumpstart their rebuild should they lean that way. If the Sharks choose to trade Labanc for a draft pick, Doug Wilson could receive a first-round pick in return. The Sharks could also trade Labanc for a highly touted prospect, similar to how Tyler Toffoli brought back Tyler Madden. Perhaps the Sharks could also package together Tampa Bay‘s first-round pick with Labanc and trade into the top 15 of the 2020 draft. Wilson has many options he can choose to receive should he choose to trade Labanc.

If we look at some trades involving players similar to Labanc, it’s clear that Labanc can bring back a first-rounder. Players like Barclay GoodrowOndrej Kase, and Blake Coleman brought back first-round picks. While Labanc maybe a tier below these players, he is young and shows the potential to be a top-six scorer. Doug Wilson has also shown the ability to fleece other general managers, and I wouldn’t doubt his ability in a Labanc trade. How Wilson rebuilds the Sharks could cost him his job, and he will put every effort forth to get max value out of a Kevin Labanc trade.

Conclusion

Kevin Labanc has been a crucial part of the Sharks forward group for the past two years. He has been relied on to play top-six minutes and is one of the younger athletes on an older team. How the Sharks deal with Labanc will be the sign of where they are going as a franchise. It will show whether they want to full-on rebuild or just retool and contend again. Doug Wilson has a huge task at hand, and figuring out what to do with Labanc is just one more thing that Wilson will have to think about during this crucial offseason for the Sharks. 

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