Labanc on that offer... sheet

If the Sabres do utilize an offer sheet this offseason, Kevin Labanc is a smart option

Brayton Wilson
June 27, 2019 - 6:19 am

Photo: Ezra Shaw - Getty Images

NHL Free Agency is quickly approaching, as the negotiating period between free agents and teams is well underway.

The contact period with restricted free agents began on Wednesday with a flurry of interest in several players.

Some big names who have reportedly been getting calls from other teams with interest in handing out an offer sheet includes: Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho, and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor.

There is one more free agent that is starting to garner some attention on the restricted free agent market - San Jose Sharks forward Kevin Labanc.

The 23-year-old just came off a career-year with the Sharks with 17 goals and 56 points in 82 games, as well as four goals and five assists in 20 playoff games.

Labanc’s offensive production took a step in his third season in the NHL and allowed him to become one of San Jose's top offensive playmakers up front.

When the Sharks drafted Labanc from the Barrie Colts in the 2014 NHL Draft, they nabbed him in the sixth round (171st overall) after a year in the OHL that saw him scoring just 11 goals and 35 points.

Over the next two years, Labanc's offensive production exploded with 107 points (31+76) in the 2014-15 season, followed by a 127 points (39+88) in the 2015-16 season.

After signing his entry-level contract with the Sharks, Labanc made an even bigger jump by finding his way onto the NHL roster for 55 games the next year.

In the 2017-18 season, Labanc doubled his production in 77 games in San Jose with 11 goals and 40 points. His jump in production earned him time with the Sharks on their playoff run, and eventually led him to his full-time spot on the roster this past year.

Now, Labanc heads into the first free agency period of his career and is expected to get a fairly significant raise. It will not be anywhere close to the likely $10-plus million that Marner is expected to garner, nor will it be anywhere in the $7-$9.5 million like Aho or Connor are projected to earn.

What Labanc is likely to earn with his new contract could be anywhere in the range of $3.5 million to $4.2 million per-year.

When talking compensation for a potential of offer sheet, the price range that Labanc would cost is a second round pick, if the team holding his rights opts to not match.

This is the exact type of offer sheet the Sabres can make this offseason that would be worthy of adding to the offense.

What the Sabres would get in Labanc is an offensive playmaker who can fit a top-nine role and provide some points on the wing.

Labanc has a very good shot from the wing and has been working to becoming more of an effective shooter.

He has been able to pick his spots more with the puck on his stick, taking more controlled shots, which he was able to turn into goals on 13.1% of his chances in the regular season. That is up from just 7.1% last year on 156 shots on goal.

While he has been a better shooter and his shot rates are respectable, Labanc has also taken the next step at being a better puck distributor, especially on the power play. He makes crisp passes on the tape of the stick, and his excellent vision allows him to find the open lanes to make those passes.

Labanc is crafty with the puck on his stick, he finds openings in the offensive zone to get himself into prime position to make a play. He also moves his feet well with and without the puck on his stick.

Where the concerns lie in Labanc’s game is his play in the defensive zone, which has proven to be inconsistent at times. However, his overall play in his own end was starting to improve as the season went along.

What makes Labanc even more interesting is the bind that the Sharks find themselves in with free agency quickly approaching.

With the NHL salary cap being set at $81.5 million, the Sharks have over $14.8 million to work with in salary cap space. That comes after the Sharks just signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to a new eight-year, $92 million deal.

With a number of other key players due for contract extensions in San Jose, including forwards Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, it may make things very difficult for the Sharks to fit everyone under the cap. 

The Sabres could certainly work out a trade to try and acquire the winger that route, but the assets to give up in a trade would likely be much more than just a second round pick in an offer sheet.

If the Sabres were to utilize an offer sheet on any restricted free agent available, Labanc would fit the bill for Buffalo.

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