Whether it was deserved, earned, or simply a big ‘thank you’ by the team for taking a huge discount last season, Kevin Labanc just got paid. According to many, in a tight salary cap market with team-friendly deals coming left, right, and center, Labanc, in fact, got overpaid. That said, it’s hard to argue he didn’t have it coming.
Even after a slower 2019-20 regular season, the San Jose Sharks rewarded Kevin Labanc with a four-year, $18.9M deal. It’s good money for a player who scored 14 goals and 19 assists (for 33 points) in 70 games this past season. However, the deal also comes after Labanc had a 56-point 2018-19 season and could have hit it out of the park with a contract at that time. Instead, took only $1 million for one season so the Sharks could ice a strong team.
In some ways, it was a gamble on himself. Others saw it as a ‘I’ll scratch your back now, you scratch mine later.’ handshake agreement with the team. And, part of what’s so interesting about this new deal is that, considering the circumstances surrounding Labanc’s less-productive season and a pandemic, the Sharks could have balked. Many would have understood. They didn’t.
In truth, Labanc’s 2019-20 regression wasn’t so much him because the entire Sharks team slid backward. While Labanc suffered on his personal score sheet, so did the rest of the team. When the ice melted on the Sharks season, he remained a top-five goal scorer for the Sharks.
The Sharks Are Counting on Labanc as a Key Top-Six Piece
Obviously, this contract suggests that the Sharks are counting on Labanc becoming a key piece of the roster during what the Sharks are hoping is a quick “re-build” after last season’s poor showing. The team’s expectation is that the 24-year-old will skate with the team’s top-six forwards.
The Terms of Labanc’s Contract
The financial terms of the deal include a reported $4,725,000 salary-cap hit spaced out of the years as shown below. (As a note, a number of back-loaded salaries early in multi-year contracts have been reportedly signed today. From the best I can tell, the logic of these contracts is an attempt to help players escape the huge escrow payments that have been levied against players’ salaries as a response to the money lost by owners as a result of the regular season’s suspension due to COVID-19 and the CBA’s rulings about splitting hockey-related revenue between the owners and the players.)
2020-21: $3.2 million (includes a $1.5 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $3.95 million (includes a $1 million signing bonus)
2022-23: $5.875 million salary
2023-24: $5.875 million salary
There is no trade protection in the contract. As well, the contract buys out the rest of Labanc’s arbitration eligibility and his first UFA-eligible season. In part, the size of this contract helps make up for the salary discount Labanc took by signing a one-year team-friendly contract last season for only $1 million.
Doug Wilson Raves about Labanc’s Skills
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, whose team suffered a rare poor season in 2019-20, noted:
“Kevin brings a rare level of offensive skill and creativity to our line-up and has established himself as a top-six forward in our league. His Game 7 playoff performance last season is one of the most iconic moments in Sharks’ history and is a perfect example of the impact he can have on a hockey game. Kevin has shown a consistent ability to perform at a high level in both the regular season and the playoffs and he will be a big part of our club in the coming years.”
The Sharks Are Set on Its Top-Six Core
With Labanc now signed, the Sharks have set the team’s core for the next few seasons. The team’s five highest-paid forwards are all signed through 2021-22 and there’s just under $3 million left in salary-cap space with no one on the team remaining to sign. Will Wilson use some of that room to add a depth player? Will he save the space for other potential moves?
To be specific, I’m hoping the rumors that Patrick Marleau might return to the team are true.
He’s one of the most important players in Sharks’ history and it would be great if he retired with the team. He’s a young 41-years-old.
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