2012 NHL Free Agency: San Jose Sharks Must Be Selective

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2012 NHL Free Agency: San Jose Sharks Must Be Selective
The San Jose Sharks braintrust at the 2009 State of the Sharks event

At this time of the year, NHL management, scouting and coaching staffs do not get a lot of sleep. Everyone in the Eastern time zone is up until 3:00 AM so they can catch any Pacific Coast people still up. Pacific Coasters are up at 5:00 AM so they can catch people out east as they are starting their day.

You can believe the San Jose Sharks are talking trades internally. Even if the Sharks are not looking to move anyone, they know other teams might be and they have to be ready. Things will get a lot more complicated once we hit Noon, Eastern Time on Sunday.

The Sharks have until then to sign their own free agents, but the work there is done. At this point one side or the other has presented a final offer their counterpart (almost certainly the player and agent) is mulling over.

That is why everyone knows who is out there. You have to be prepared with a report on each player before everything begins because the situation is so fluid you could lose the players you target quickly.

Fortunately, the NHL draft is good practice for that. You know your priorities, you have a board done up and you make adjustments as people are no longer available.

And just like the draft, there are some teams that "go first." The blue-chip free agents usually go first and are paid top dollar. By July 4, any starting goalie or top-10 skater (six forwards, four blue line) is probably gone. Free agents signed after that see progressively less compensation, and by August only veteran minimum-type depth players remain.

San Jose is not typically a team that jumps on the big names. The last top-level free agent they pursued was Scott Niedermayer in 2005.

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But the Sharks may need to go in rarely-tested waters. Doug Wilson needs to reel in someone at the level he did with Rob Blake at $3 million in 2008.

San Jose has the least cap space per roster spot vacancy, needing to spread a little over $8 million on four or five players. That sounds like plenty of room, but teams slowed their spending last season—perhaps in anticipation of a labour dispute (it does not help your position that too much money is going to the players if so many teams spend to the cap). It is likely the Sharks will leave more than they did last year.

However, they will be losing several contracts and replacing them with less costly restricted free agents. It is likely the bottom six skaters on the NHL roster will be among those the Sharks tendered offers to keep at a cost of about $4 million between them.

If San Jose increases its payroll at the same rate as the cap increased (about 10 percent), that should leave it about $5 million. Their only needs are a forward who could crack the second line and a veteran-minimum emergency defenceman. As those players replace others at the bottom of the payroll, it means over $6 million in room—more than enough to get everything they need.

The veteran minimum player will be taken later when it is a buyer's market. As an example, Sheldon Brookbank signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract in 2010 with Anaheim. He had played in at least 40 games in three seasons, and went from 40 to 80 for the Ducks last year, managing 14 points.

He is the type of player the Sharks need to sign for around $1 million—someone other teams are undervaluing. It may not even matter if those other teams are right, as this player would likely play in fewer than half the team's games.

But the forward they need is out there. If they are going to target a core payer, they should go after one who can be with the team for a while. This team is already older then most, and a move in a new direction is called for.

Disregard frequently mentioned free-agent matches like Olli Jokinen, Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Steve Sullivan, Mike Knuble and Jamie Langenbrunner. The team must prioritize finding a player they can add to Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski as cornerstones if the current core cannot get it done by the time their contracts expire in two seasons.

With that in mind, I have profiled four forwards at San Jose Sharks Examiner who the team needs to make a big and immediate push to sign.

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