Alexander Barabanov is turning himself into one of the Sharks’ most valuable forwards, as his chemistry with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier this season has been undeniable.
Now one wonders if the Sharks can afford to keep Barabanov around past July.
Barabanov assisted on Timo Meier’s second-period goal, his seventh point in the last seven games, and had three shots on net in 17:46 of ice time Thursday in the Sharks’ 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Barabanov also nearly scored on a nifty individual effort in the second period and he, Meier and Hertl all had a plus-minus rating of +2. Even with a Corsi-for percentage of 44.0, they were easily the Sharks’ top possession line against the league-leading Avalanche.
It hasn’t been perfect, but that trio has also had at least one point on 11 of the last 19 goals the Sharks have scored at even strength in the last seven games. Meier and Hertl each have nine points in that time.
“All guys bring something to the ice and I think that’s what helps us be successful,” Meier said. “But I think we’ve got to do a better job. I thought (Wednesday) night and tonight we could have done some things better.
“We also have to be reliable defensively and shut lines down. Once we get in the o-zone, the skill Barbie has, Tomas has, we’re a very dangerous line.”
Barabanov, listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, finished March with 10 points in 14 games – a career-best for him in any calendar month since he came to San Jose from Toronto at the 2021 trade deadline last April.
“He’s steadily improved his game,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said of Barabanov. “He’s one of our best offensive players and I think for a guy that’s not that big in stature, he plays a hard game. He puts his nose in the hard areas and he’s not afraid to battle for pucks and do the little things that need to happen out there.”
Barabanov, who turns 28 in June, is a pending unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team on July 13.
Barabanov has a salary cap hit of $1 million this season, and will most certainly be due a raise and perhaps a multi-year contract with 37 points in 59 games so far.
The Sharks, though, might need to pinch some pennies somewhere to make that happen.
The NHL’s salary cap will increase $1 million to $82.5 million next season, and will likely only increase by an additional $1 million for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons as well. That’s how long the NHL projects it will take for the players to repay owners the $1 billion in hockey-related revenue that was lost since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Per CapFriendly, the Sharks already have $70.1 million tied up in 16 players for next season, when pending restricted free agents Mario Ferraro and Kaapo Kahkonen will also need new contracts. The Sharks also have $52.5 million committed to six players the following year, when Meier will need a new deal.
So the Sharks might need to get a little creative here.
The Sharks could save a little more than $2 million under the cap by trading either James Reimer or Adin Hill in the offseason, as they will not carry three goalies into next season.
Radim Simek, who has a cap hit of $2.25 million each of the next two seasons, could also be on the way out after he’s fallen on the defense depth chart in recent games. Would there be any takers for Kevin Labanc and his $4.725 million cap hit for the next two seasons if it is decided that a change in scenery would be beneficial to all parties?
Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will said on March 21 after the trade deadline that Barabanov has been “an important part of our team. He’s scored well this year, so we’re just kind of playing out the process.
“He hasn’t played a lot of games in his NHL career and we’ll gather even more information over the next quarter of the season. So we’re just continuing the process with him. We’ve been taking tires with his agent for a little bit here, but there’s no hurry on our part.”
Barabanov seems to like it in San Jose, but if he keeps putting up good numbers, who knows what his price tag might be at the end of the regular season later this month. Maybe it gets to a point where the Sharks can’t afford to keep him.
“His puck handling, his poise, he’s got no fear,” Brent Burns said when asked what he likes about Barabanov. “He’s one of the best guys in tight with the puck, making little plays, protecting it. For a guy that’s not very big, I mean he’s incredibly tough on the park and very skilled.”