One of the NHL’s biggest headlines in October has been the slow start by the cup contenders in San Jose. The Sharks went 1-4 to start the season, and were outscored 17-5 in their first four games. Given the existence of Martin Jones, those 17 goals against may not be shocking, but notching only 1.25 goals for per game was certainly well below expectations.
Letting Joe Pavelski walk in free agency was portended by long-term big-money extensions for Erik Karlsson and Evander Kane, and it’s had a big effect on the Sharks’ top lines. Captain Joe’s departure left a huge hole in the team’s forward group – Pavelski led the forwards in minutes per game the last few years.
The assumption in preseason was that the major beneficiary of Pavelski’s minutes opening up would be Kevin Labanc. After playing third-line minutes last year, Labanc’s competition in camp this fall appeared to be a mix of unproven rookies, unexciting vets, with the only threat to top-line deployment seeming to be possible switch-winger Timo Meier.
With what was presumed to be an upswing in time on ice, vastly improved linemates, and a one year $1 million prove-it deal signed in the offseason, many considered 2019-20 to be Kevin Labanc SZN. But through five games we haven’t seen it yet. Labanc has one goal and zero assists so far. Were expectations for Labanc simply too high this season? Or does he still stand a chance of breaking out and turning into a legit must-own in fantasy hockey leagues?
The time on ice opened up by Pavelski’s departure seemed like it would make a huge difference for Labanc, who played under 15 minutes per game the last two years. Pavelski routinely played over 19 minutes per night in his last few campaigns with the Sharks, and someone needs to take those minutes, right? In theory, that same opportunity exists on the powerplay as well, where Pavelski played the bumper spot.
Through the first few games of the season, it seemed like that expectation would be borne out. Labanc topped 17, 21, and 20 minutes