Kevin Labanc is the San Jose Sharks version of The Rorschach test. The analytics say he is good, but there is a reason that David Quinn is the third straight coach to have Labanc in his proverbial doghouse. As Kevin Labanc starts his eighth season in the NHL, what has he established himself as? Early in his career, he was a scoring third liner who was lethal on the power play. Now, Labanc could barely crack a Sharks power play that trotted out this lineup last year:
For those counting at home, 40% of the power play is no longer with the organization.
Labanc has been one of the more frustrating players for fans after signing a four-year $18.9 million contract in 2020. The expectation was that he would turn into a perennial 50-60 point scorer for the Sharks. Since then, Labanc has averaged 22 points a season. Last season, Labanc scored 15 goals and 18 assists in 72 games while averaging 14:20 time on ice. Labanc was supposed to be a solid contributor for the Sharks but has seen his role passed by other players.
Where does Labanc fit in?
Heading into training camp, Kevin Labanc theoretically has a shot at a top-six role with the Sharks. He will likely be fighting for a spot on the third line. Labanc does have the advantage of being one of the few right-handed shots in the forward group, but with the additions of Anthony Duclair and Mike Hoffman, Labanc will find himself in the bottom six. Having a $4.75 million bottom-six forward who doesn’t play on the penalty kill seems like a bad use of resources.
Although Labanc didn’t get many power play opportunities last season, he will get more of a chance this year. With the expectation that the Sharks roll out two balanced units instead of one great unit, Labanc will have a role on power play two. If he can find some production with the man advantage, it could do wonders in helping Labanc up his value heading into the trade deadline.
What’s next for Labanc?
Kevin Labanc enters the season going into the last year of his deal. With a cap hit close to $5 million, it will be hard to see a team shelling out anything for a specialized player like Labanc. While in the right situation, Labanc could be a very capable player for a playoff team looking to add scoring pop, the price tag is hard to justify adding. The Sharks could theoretically retain up to 50% of Labanc’s salary this year, but they already have used two of their three retained slots on Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. While Labanc’s contract would come off the books on July 1, 2024, the return on Labanc might not be worth it for Mike Grier.
This will be Kevin Labanc’s last season in San Jose. With up-and-coming players like Tristen Robins and Danil Gushchin, who are expected to make a push for NHL games in 2024, shedding Labanc’s contract and roster spot can allow some of the young guys a chance to replicate Labanc’s production at a much more cost-effective approach.
Bold Prediction: Kevin Labanc replicates last season’s numbers with 15 goals and 20 assists while playing third-line minutes.