With blockbuster deals seen around the NHL ahead of this year's trade deadline, the Sharks made one of the largest moves of them all, sending Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils last Sunday.
While the Sharks did make some other deals this week, notably also trading Nick Bonino, the big move was obviously the Meier deal.
Heading to the Devils were Timo Meier, Scott Harrington, Santeri Hatakka, Zachary Emond, Timur Ibragimov and a 2024 fifth-round pick. Meanwhile, the Sharks' return included Fabian Zetterlund, Nikita Okhotiuk, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Andreas Johnsson, a first-round pick in 2023, a conditional first-round pick in 2024, and a 2024 seventh-round pick. The Sharks also retained half of Meier's salary.
There wasn’t much debate as to whether Meier was going to be traded before the deadline, it was just a matter of what the Sharks could get back.
Despite the fact that Meier scored at an 82-game pace of 45 goals and 75 points through 57 games with the Sharks this season, as well as the fact that he’s only 26 years old, moving the winger was the right call. As a pending restricted free agent, there was no reason for the Sharks to get themselves locked into another big-money, long-term contract. By the time the team’s truly competitive again, Meier will likely be almost 30 years old and at that point, could even be starting to near a decline.
Getting back future assets was the priority, to help the Sharks build for the future – so let’s take a look at the return.
While we can likely count on Andreas Johnsson not sticking around long-term (though he is getting a shot with the Sharks), the team did get back some good pieces.
Zetterlund is only 23 years old and has already established himself as a top-nine NHL forward. With the Devils, his 20 points in 45 games had him producing at a rate of 36 points per 82. The big question is whether or not he’s going to be more than that. Zetterlund is going to get a great opportunity to grow his role with the Sharks, it’s a matter of whether he can end up becoming a long-term, top-six forward.
Okhotiuk could be an underrated addition for the Sharks. He’s only 22 years old and given he was already getting into some NHL action with the Devils, we could see him with the Sharks in the near future. I had an opportunity to see Okhotiuk play a bit during his time in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s and his style of play could be a good compliment to the Sharks’ defense group. He shouldn’t be counted on for a ton offensively, but he’s solid defensively and his physicality will make him hard to play against. For a team that lacks defenseman who are consistently strong in their own end, Okhotiuk could be a good fit, even if it’s only a bottom-pairing role that he ends up taking.
Mukhamadullin is the most interesting prospect the Sharks got back in the deal. He only turned 21 years old in January and has already managed 25 points in 67 KHL games, which isn’t common for a player his age. A 20th overall pick by the Devils in 2020, Mukhamadullin carries a lot of upside.
The big thing is going to be rounding out his game. I won’t pretend that I’ve seen the defenseman play a ton, but from a limited time watching him, there were some pretty tough defensive mistakes. From the research I’ve done since the trade as well, it seems like defensive issues could be present.
The Sharks had a very similar situation with Ryan Merkley, drafted only two years prior at 22nd overall, and the organization wasn’t able to help him develop as anticipated. I don’t know how much that should be read into, but it’s something to note at least.
The other major part of the deal were the draft picks. Yes, the first-round pick this year is going to be quite late in the round, but it’s not like that excludes the Sharks from getting a great player. It’s a solid draft class and a first-round pick is always going to provide a good opportunity.
The Sharks did market the 2024 'first-round pick' a bit inaccurately though, as chances are, that additional pick will actually come in the second round. With the conditions applied to the pick, essentially, the Devils need to make the Eastern Conference Finals in 2023 or 2024, or that pick comes in the second round in 2024.
The other issue is the Sharks really didn’t get any players that are sure bets to be impact players in the NHL. They weren’t able to pry Dawson Mercer away from the Devils, and Alexander Holtz also wasn’t included.
One trend to watch is that Mike Grier does seem to opt for more pieces, rather than fewer, better pieces. We saw this last summer when he traded the 11th overall pick for three later picks, and we’ve seen it again here, getting a huge package, but one that doesn’t include any real locks.
So I think it’s fair to be skeptical about this deal. The Sharks dealt away one of their best players who’s still only in his mid-20s and got a lot of ‘maybes’ in return. On a much smaller note as well, Santeri Hatakka, who the Sharks sent to the Devils in the trade, did actually seem to have the potential to end up being an NHL defender, and his inclusion in the deal was avoidable.
At the same time, there’s a lot of upside here. If a few of these pieces really work out, this trade could be the catalyst of an effective rebuild. This is one of the trades that’s really difficult to evaluate now and will take some time to be able to judge.
The Sharks have also made the mistake of signing players to long-term deals when they really shouldn’t have been, so this is quite the change in pace. Just going back to last year, Tomas Hertl was signed to a long extension that really didn’t make a ton of sense, given the Sharks’ direction. This time, San Jose didn’t make the same mistake and actually took the opportunity to start building for the future.
We'll see how this move works out for the Sharks, but it does at least seem as though the organization has acknowledged the need to put more emphasis on adding future assets. It's tough to see Meier go, but hopefully, this is a package that helps the Sharks in the long run.