Labanc signed one-year contract to boost Sharks' quest for Cup
Forward confident enhanced role will help him become part of long-term core with title contenderby Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHl.com Deputy Managing Editor
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Kevin Labanc admitted he put the team first when he signed a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.
Rather than go through prolonged negotiations on a long-term contract, the 23-year-old forward opted for a quicker resolution, signing July 8.
"I didn't want to wait," he said following a Checking For Charity game at Flyers Skate Zone on Friday. "I wanted to sign the contract, get myself ready for the upcoming year and have nothing hanging over my shoulder."
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Labanc said he also wanted to help the Sharks, who lost forwards Joe Pavelski (Dallas Stars), Joonas Donskoi (Colorado Avalanche) and Gustav Nyquist (Columbus Blue Jackets) during free agency.
"I think I did [general manager Doug Wilson] a big favor, and the Sharks organization, taking that deal," Labanc said. "There's a lot more salary cap (space) for him to get another one or two players. It's awesome and I think it'll help our team be good Stanley Cup contenders this year and that's where we want to be, we want to hoist the Stanley Cup this year. It's a long season, and we're going to need very player we can get."
Labanc will be counted to help the Sharks get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2016. He had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 82 regular-season games and nine points (four goals, five assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season. Four of those nine points (one goal, three assists) came during the Sharks' five-minute third-period power play against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round.
Video: Kevin Labanc discusses re-signing with the Sharks
With Pavelski's departure and 40-year-old forward Joe Thornton unsigned and unsure if he'll play this season, the Sharks look like a team shifting into a new era, led by defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, and forwards Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl. Labanc would like to be considered part of that core group.
"I'm going to go in there and work hard and look forward to my enhanced role on the team," he said. "There's going to be a lot of minutes. When guys leave it's an opportunity for guys like me to step up and prove I am that type of player who can play a top-six role."
Labanc is the only one of those players on a one-year contract; he can be a restricted free agent again next summer. By taking a short-term contract now, Labanc said he expects to play well enough to earn a long-term contract to remain in San Jose.
Part of that process was playing in the three-day Checking For Charity tournament, which includes more than 40 teams at various skill levels playing games throughout southern New Jersey. Labanc's team in the weekend event is playing in the A-Pro/Am Division, and among his teammates is Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.
"I saw the guys that were leaving (San Jose) ... so I knew there'd be more ice time for myself," Labanc said. "At the same time I knew that the team's (NHL salary) cap was really tight. I didn't want to take away most of that cap (space) and lose one or two guys that could potentially be on the team, that Doug Wilson would want. We have a great team, a good Stanley Cup contender this year again. I'm betting on myself right now. I know I'm going to put the boots on and go to work."