The Sharks agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal with restricted free agent Tomas Hertl on Wednesday, and the deal works out well for both sides.
A bridge deal usually is agreed upon with a young player who has a couple successful seasons under his belt but isn’t close to his prime and still has more to prove. It is typically a shorter-term deal where the player takes a little less money than maybe he deserves, so when the deal ends they can either reward the player’s improved play with a much larger and longer contract, or part ways if the player doesn’t live up to his potential.
Hertl’s case is made a bit more interesting because of the dreaded knee injury he suffered in the Stanley Cup Final. If he can shake off the injury by 2016-17 opening night puck drop and continue improving, he’s on his way to a huge deal two years from now – hopefully made by the Sharks – and in line to be the team’s star forward of the future at just 22 years of age. However, that injury does make things a bit riskier and might be the reason the two sides agreed to a short-term deal rather than a larger one.
P.K. Subban’s two-year, $5.75 million deal from 2012-2014 is a good example of a classic bridge deal. That worked out perfectly for the Canadiens in those two seasons and eventually for Subban, whose dominant play and Norris Trophy-winning season in 2012-13 led to a massive eight-year, $72 million deal awarded to him in the summer of 2014.
As long as Hertl does recover from the knee injury, this is a fantastic job by the Sharks front office and GM Doug Wilson, paying only $3 million per year for this dominant power forward who just continues to get better and excel on the top line.
Hertl scored 46 points last season and finished the campaign with a plus-16 rating. He scored 11 points in 20 playoff games and had a rating of plus-eight in the postseason. He doesn’t score as much as Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture, but he is equally as important as those top-notch goal scorers because he wins battles on the boards, is a big-time playmaker and excels in all three zones.
Despite playing on the left wing for the majority of last season on the first line with Pavelski and Joe Thornton, he is naturally a center and is someone the Sharks could easily slide into that position if someone went down. Hertl has been documented saying he prefers the center position, so that versatility is a great aspect of his game as well.
Due to the terms of the deal, the Sharks now have a little more wiggle room this summer in the free agent window. As of now, they still have just over $9 million of cap space and only two RFA’s left to re-sign, Dylan DeMelo and Matt Nieto. Those two won’t command more than $2.5 or $3 million combined per season, so the Sharks should have somewhere between $6 million and $7 million to work with to sign a couple free agents with some roster spots available.
Most importantly though, Hertl’s return in teal is huge for everyone surrounding the organization. Pavelski, Thornton and Patrick Marleau may not have played like they were in their early-late 30’s last season, but eventually – even if it’s not next year – they will begin to age like everyone in the league does. Locking down a young piece like Hertl for a couple more reasons is big news for the Sharks.