Often the top impending free agents heading into a season are no longer available by the time that season comes to a close. With many of the biggest names in the 2022 UFA class being in their mid-to-late thirties and many others having already begun extension talks with their current teams, next year may be no different. However, the San Jose Sharks’ Tomas Hertl could be one of those rare wire-to-wire top impending free agents. Recent reports indicate that the skilled center is unsure about his relationship with the San Jose Sharks and whether he wants to remain with the team. The two sides are not expected to begin contract talks until later in the coming season and by then it could be too late.
As Alex Didion notes for NBC Sports, Hertl recently stated in an interview at home in the Czech Republic that he wonders if San Jose wants him and if he wants to stay. There is clearly a disconnect between the two sides, despite Hertl’s place as one of the team’s best players. Over the past six seasons, Hertl has scored at a pace of .32 goals per game and .7 points per game. While health hasn’t always been on his side, he makes up for it with immense impact when he is on the ice. In five of those six seasons, Hertl either scored 20+ goals or would have in a full season. In the past three years, he did the same with the 60-point benchmark. While his injury absences are not inconsequential, it is still clear that Hertl is an elite player – and yet the Sharks are seemingly not pushing him to re-sign.
The biggest question may be why Hertl would want to stay anyway. As noted, the 27-year-old could be one of the prime options on the open market. Not only is his scoring ability apparent but he excels at the center position, playing with size and grit and getting the job done at the face-off dot. Analytics also support Hertl’s status as perhaps one of the more underrated stars in the NHL. He has a chance to cash in and find a new team that is more likely to contend and where he can truly shine. Why would he pass that up? The grass is likely greener outside of San Jose, who Didion’s colleague Adam Gretz points out is still likely several years away from getting back to postseason contention. Yet, Gretz also notes that the Sharks’ salary cap situation is not ideal either, meaning Hertl is not likely to make any more by sticking with the rebuilding team versus testing the market for a better fit financial and competitively. As the cherry on top, Gretz writes that Hertl is also believed to be one of the Sharks who is upset about the presence of Evander Kane in the San Jose locker room. While Kane’s hockey future is still very much up in the air, if he does keep playing it will likely be for the Sharks, who made a long-term commitment – a commitment they seem hesitant to make to Hertl.
As of right now, Hertl merely seems uncertain about his future with the Sharks and wants to see how the season plays out. However, all signs point to a departure from San Jose at some point in time and a distinct possibility that Hertl could be one of if not the most sought after name on the 2022 free agent market.