Understand that this is what Todd McLellan and Doug Wilson have already done. These decisions have already been made, but have not yet played out. Wilson has already revealed he will let five or six free agents go this summer.
Six unrestricted free agents were role players for the Sharks. Another is a good NHL backup goalie, and three more might be able to play at an NHL level in an emergency. This is where the releases need to be made.
How many points in the standings will Dominic Moore (arguably the best unrestricted free agent available to the Sharks) bring than Benn Ferriero, who he would displace from the active roster? How many goals is Moore going to prevent by himself over T.J. Galiardi, who he will displace on the penalty kill?
And remember, those restricted free agents will cost half of what unrestricted free agents will, leaving the Sharks more money to spend elsewhere. That is why I would not sign a single unrestricted free agent currently under contract by San Jose.
I would pool that money together to get a top-six forward, even if he plays on the third line until the next time a top-six is hurt. Or I would trade either Jason Demers or Douglas Murray to make it happen, or dump Patrick Marleau to make room for two top-six forwards.
But, assuming there are no trades, and the re-signing of Justin Braun I have already advocated, they obviously will not re-sign Antero Niittymaki.
But what if no trade is worthwhile? Where does that leave the team, even if they re-sign all their restricted free agents to reasonable contracts?
Adding Braun to the blue line gives that unit seven good NHL players, with Taylor Doherty having a chance at some playing time. In an emergency, they would have Matt Pelech and maybe even Nick Petrecki ready to step up
The blue line would be set.
They have no reason to re-sign unrestricted free agents like Matt Irwin or Mike Moore to fill the emergency role. They could safely let Colin White and Jim Vandermeer walk via free agency. San Jose may want to dress seven defensemen, allowing them to sit their weakest forward.
As long as they stay healthy, the Sharks top-six forwards have proven they can handle their roles. But would the Sharks struggle for a third straight year with play from its role-players?
Michal Handzus, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels are legitimate third-line forwards, but that line lacks a standout unless Wingels makes the jump. James Sheppard flanked by T.J. Galiardi and Benn Ferriero offers a decent fourth line.
But behind them would only be Tim Kennedy, Brad Mashinter and Frazer McLaren as band-aid solutions. Thus, here are five of their own unrestricted free agent forwards the Sharks have to decide whether or not to bring back for depth.