Blythe Hastings ’23
With Tomas Hertl set to become a UFA this summer, both he and the Sharks have a critical decision to make about his future in San Jose. The center loves it in Northern California, but his competitive nature means the chance to win is a must. While the Sharks have been in a soft rebuild for years now, they have been surprisingly successful this season, and Hertl is one of the chief reasons. “At one point in time, he was carrying us,” said coach Bob Boughner.
“We had some guys injured for an Eastern road trip, and he just caught fire. He was a little slow out of the gate, but he’s like that. When he starts getting bounces and the puck is going in, he goes on serious runs. We needed that, and he carried us for a month-and-a-half, along with Timo Meier.” What is most impressive about Hertl is how his game has evolved over the years. He broke in as a scoring winger but has transformed into a punishing two-way center who is now counted on to kill penalties, win faceoffs and play in crucial situations on top of putting the puck in the net. “The one thing that has grown in his game is his details,” Boughner said. “Playing against top lines and not only providing offense but being able to shut down the other team’s top line or protect a lead. It’s also his level of leadership and maturity.
Tommy was a young kid that always loved the game and came in with a smile, just a nice guy. Now he has developed into a man, a really vocal guy in the room who says what needs to be said and helps the young guys in the room. He has evolved into a leader.” The Sharks deserve credit for that success. When Hertl came over to North America for the 2013-14 campaign, the Sharks had him live with a billet family to help him adjust to the culture and an entirely new language. “If I had been alone in an apartment, I probably would have just watched movies in Czech,” Hertl said. “Instead, I was in a family that cooked for me and watched TV shows with me in English.
It helped me keep trying and helped me focus on hockey because I didn’t have to think about anything else. It was a great first year for me.” Watching The Big Bang Theory – a show he has now watched all the way through three times – helped Hertl learn English, but his hockey education came at the rink. “I was lucky,” he said. “My first year, I played with ‘Jumbo’ (Joe Thornton) and Brent Burns, which made hockey easier. Martin Havlat really helped because he was Czech, and I didn’t speak English. He could translate and was always there for me. When I hurt my knee, my girlfriend stayed over at his house, which was really cool.” Hertl also found someone to show him the ropes off the ice in Tommy Wingels. The two became fast friends, and Wingels drove Hertl around and hung out with him on the road. By Hertl’s second year, they were as close as “peas and carrots,” as Wingels used to say, and Hertl has never forgotten their friendship.
This past fall, they briefly got to reunite in Chicago during the NHL’s media tour when Hertl was in town (Wingels, an Illinois native, spent his last two pro seasons in Switzerland, finishing in 2020). The big question now is if Hertl will remain in San Jose for the near future. Playoff hopes had dimmed, but were not entirely extinguished, as the stretch drive neared, and it was only prudent for outsiders to wonder if the Sharks would trade Hertl for a massive return at the deadline. Big two-way centers who are still in their 20s aren’t the kinds of players who pop up on the market that often, and the Sharks do risk losing Hertl for no return if they wait and he walks in the summer.