If Antti Niemi can play more consistently, he will join these six players as the core of the San Jose Sharks
Three times over the last eight weeks there has been optimism surrounding a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the NHL. Every time, it has been met with realities that the two sides remain far apart.
In early November, the owners gave in on a 50/50 split on hockey-related revenue (HRR). That share had been seen as the obstacle for a players union (NHLPA) that was unwilling to drop further than that after having a 75 percent share before the last CBA was signed.
When the NHLPA countered with three alternatives, the NHL pulled their offer from the table and ceased negotiating.
In early December, the two sides were close enough that NHLPA chief Donald Fehr to publicly announce a deal was close. The NHL was furious, pointing out a gap remained and threatening not to negotiate if Fehr remained involved, and talks again broke down.
Eventually, players voted to dissolve the union by January 2, opening the door to legal action forcing the league to allow players to return. The NHL came up with its best offer yet and both sides talked right up to New Year's Eve. However, Sports Illustrated has reported that "significant obstacles remain" after talks concluded for the 2012 calendar year.
Coverage of the CBA negotiations and their impact on individual teams has become redundant. But some of the material warrants an update.
For one, I only covered the reasons a new core would be needed and who would be on it, giving little reason why. Two players on that list increasingly unlikely to be part of next year's team without a chance to prove they are worth investing a new contract in are replaced by two new faces.
Last week, I looked at five players who could crack the everyday roster as soon as next season here. This week, I look at five players who will be cornerstones at some point beyond that...
Logan Couture was not placed on the other list because he is already part of the present core. The team's only All Star last season had a career year on both ends of the ice.
Cooch was in the top three among Sharks in goals (31), assists (34), points (65), game-winning goals (five) and takeaways (61). He had the best assist-to-giveaway ratio and was tied for second in blocked shots among forwards.
At 23, he will only get better.
Brent Burns is already physical and talented at age 27. That is why the San Jose Sharks extended him for five years and nearly $29 million after trading for him in 2011.
With Dan Boyle likely on his way out by the time his contract expires in 2014, Burns is expected to take up the load. He was either in the top four of the entire team or top two of the blue line in goals (11), assists (26), points (37), game-winners (two), ice time (22:32), hits (68), blocked shots (117) and takeaways (25).
Joe Pavelski is 28 years old and his contract runs out right before he turns 30. Expect him to be re-signed.
Pavelski led all forwards in ice time (20:36) because he is a key member of both the penalty kill and power play. This was perfectly illustrated through leading the San Jose Sharks in plus-minus (plus-18), but a deeper look shows just how many things he does well.
"Little Joe" led the second-best faceoff team in the league in winning percentage (58.7 percent), was second in takeaways (72) and its best shot-blocking forward (84). He was also top five in goals (31), assists (30) and points (61).
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is nicknamed "Pickles," but it is the opposition he usually puts in a pickle.
The 25-year-old is already a six-year veteran known for always being where he is supposed to be. He contributes offensively, ranking third on the blue line in goals (four), assists (19), points (23) and plus-minus (plus-11). But he is also the team's leading shot-blocker (171) and second in minutes (23:09).
That is why Pickles was extended through the 2017-18 season for over $4 million per season. Even if he has developed as much as he will, he should remain one of hockey's most reliable and underrated defenders beyond his next contract.
Tomas Hertl gets the last spot on this list over promising players such as Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun because he has greater potential.
Wingels plays well on both ends, using speed and physical play to get nine points and 102 hits in just 33 games last season. Braun has offensive potential and was solid in his own end in his first full season in 2011-12.
Either or both could be fixtures on the top half of their units in the near future. Neither is over the age of 25, so they should get better.
But Hertl is just 19 and has looked good in the top competition he could face in the Czech Republic. He scores but also defends.
"He has the upside potential to be a centerman that you can use in all situations," San Jose Sharks scouting director Tim Burke said (h/t San Francisco Chronicle). "He will defend, he makes plays, he has long reach, he strips pucks, he's able to play low around the net. There are a lot of good qualities."