SAN JOSE A few minutes after the Sharks announced that theyd re-signed Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl jumped on board with the bearded one.
Hertl signed a four-year contract with the Sharks Monday, a deal that ends his restricted free agency while eating up the first two years of his eligibility for unrestricted free agency. The contract comes with an annual salary cap hit of $5.625 million.
General manager Doug Wilson characterized the contract as a win-win deal. Hertl receives the security of a four-year contract after battling right-knee injuries throughout the early part of his career; the Sharks will get to avert a potential bidding war for the 24-year-old Czechs services in unrestricted free agency for an additional two years.
In 2016, the last time Hertl was eligible for restricted free agency, he signed a team-friendly two-year, $6 million contract. The deal freed up salary cap space and gave the Sharks insurance against the possibility that Hertls knee issues could have plagued him throughout his career.
Now, Wilson is adamant that Hertls knee problems are a thing of the past, mollifying concerns about signing the power forward to a more extensive contract.
It matched everybodys needs, Wilson said. He wanted the term, we wanted the term. Its an appreciation of what hes done for us and what he deserves. Hell come out of this contract still as a young player. We think hell accomplish a lot of things in the next four years and Im sure hell want even more money then.
Like Thornton, Hertl knew he wanted to play in San Jose, which made it easy for him to give up two years of unrestricted free agency.
I right away knew for sure I wanted to sign for a little bit longer because the Sharks organization is almost my new home, Hertl said. I love it. I want to play there not just for four years.
After fighting through knee injuries throughout the first four years of his career, Hertl put together his best season last winter while suiting up for 79 of 82 games. The 24-year old missed three games with a right-hand injury unrelated to his knee history.
Hertl made an immediate impact on the 2017-18 season after head coach Pete DeBoer moved him from center up to the left wing position on Logan Coutures line just three games into the schedule. With a power forward presence on the line, Couture scored a career-high 34 goals; Hertl also set a career mark in goals (22) while matching a career best in points (46).
The Czech forward stepped into a leadership role during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was arguably the Sharks best player during their six-game series with the Vegas Golden Knights. After the Sharks fell down 3-2 in Game 5, he wasnt shy about expressing his confidence in the group, saying, well for sure come back, I believe. This is a strong team.
He took a really-big step this past season. Hes just starting his prime, Wilson said. He showed in the playoffs that he can actually be a dominant player.
His best hockeys ahead of him. He truly wants to be a great player.
After bursting onto the scene as a 19-year old rookie during the 2013-14 season, scoring four goals in just his third NHL game, Hertls career sputtered after he damaged his right medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in a knee-on-knee hit from Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown on Dec. 19, 2013. He finally got things back on track during the 2015-16 season. Then, he re-injured his knee in a collision with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
In 2016-17, he missed 33 more games after undergoing another surgical procedure to stabilize his right knee.
But after last winters breakout season, the Sharks are convinced that Hertl is completely healthy.
You can just see it. His separation. His strength on pucks. Hes 100 percent, Wilson said. Hes put a lot of work in. We think his ability to be a great player in this league, a dominant player, is just starting.
Hertl agrees. Hes grateful that the Sharks put his health concerns in the rearview mirror by inking him to a four-year deal Monday.
For the Sharks, some might say its a little bit risky, he said. But I already showed this year I have no issue, even for one game, even for practice. I think it will continue to feel even better and better.