NHL Trade Rumors: 2013-14 Salary Cap Makes San Jose Sharks Deadline Buyers

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMarch 8, 2013

NHL Trade Rumors: 2013-14 Salary Cap Makes San Jose Sharks Deadline Buyers

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    The NHL trade deadline is under four weeks away and the San Jose Sharks offense has failed to score three goals without a shootout in 16 of the last 17 games. Only a drop to the bottom third of the Western Conference would change their status as buyers before the deadline passes.

    Last season, the Sharks stood pat and were quickly ushered out of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. This team has better goaltending but such scoring woes that they need to pull off a Jeff Carter-like move that put the Los Angeles Kings—with the same blueprint—over the top.

    But should the Sharks further mortgage their future for one more push?

    If it does not work, there will be plenty of time to get prospects and picks this summer. Not only is there no reason for the Sharks to keep the core together, there is no room on the payroll for another push.

    With the drop to a $64.3 million salary cap next season, Cap Geek lists the Sharks as having just 13 players (seven forwards, five defensemen and a goalie) and under $10.6 million in cap room.

    San Jose's only four true scoring forwards are all under contract, as is second-line talent Martin Havlat. After that only Adam Burish and Tommy Wingels are signed into next season.

    The blue line would have the top two pairs plus the top third-pair defenseman under contract. Antti Niemi would be in net. That is a decent enough core, but they take up too much of the team's payroll.

    For the Sharks to re-sign every restricted free agent for a sum total of about the same money as this season is not far-fetched given many teams will have to cut roster costs. That would add Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard, T.J. Galiardi, Jason Demers, Matt Irwin and either Alex Stalock or Harri Sateri for almost $5.7 million.

    They could also promote John McCarthy, a worthwhile reserve forward, whose contract becomes one-way next season at $612,500. That would leave them strong on the blue line and at the starting goalie position, but needing one second-, third- and fourth-line forwards.

    That is a lot to get for about $4.25 million in cap space. A look at the potential line, pair and goalie combinations that's left for San Jose shows why they would be lucky to make the playoffs at all, and thus might as well go all-in this season.

First Line and Pair

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    The San Jose Sharks will be set on the first line: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

    Another year of age with a partial season and the quick exit likely headed their way without any changes would not bring appreciable decline to an elite line. It still has a shooter, a skater and a playmaker. It has some size and net-presence, especially counting behind the cage.

    Meanwhile the blue line would have a defensively-responsible skater with at least average offensive skill and a big, offensive-minded shooter. Both should be coming into their prime and should be ready for top-pair role.

Second Line and Pair

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    The San Jose Sharks would have a great anchor to the second line and another forward capable of that role. The third player is yet-to-be determined.

    About the best thing that could happen for the 2013 Sharks is for Tim Kennedy to be the answer for secondary scoring. But the best thing for next season's Sharks is for Kennedy to keep showing scoring-line potential without being too impressive.

    If San Jose could keep Kennedy for $1.5 million, that would be over double his current salary in a buyer's market—a fine raise. If he can be signed for that, he would be a gamble on the second line but one that might well pay off. If so, this line would have speed and skill to be dangerous but be undersized.

    Dan Boyle would bring the same dynamic to the second pair—no defenseman has more points since he joined the Sharks. However, he would be balanced with the physical Brad Stuart for maybe the best second pair in the NHL.

Third Line and Pair

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    If the San Jose Sharks can re-sign both restricted free agents on the blue line, they will have a deep corps even with Douglas Murray lost via free agency. They have seven players good enough to be in the lineup for every game and more than one adequate potential emergency call-up.

    Justin Braun has skill but has done little scoring since his brief stint with the team in 2010-11. His focus on defense shows, however, and he would likely be a solid anchor to the third pair. Jason Demers and Matt Irwin are both capable of being in the lineup every day, and the Sharks may even play seven defensemen.

    The third line would project to be James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish. Two of those players have been healthy scratches and the other has two points in 22 games.

    It is possible this line would be adequate. In a best-case scenario, Ryane Clowe turns it around just enough to be wanted back but not enough to get anything close to his current $3.625 million salary. The Sharks can only spend about $2 million to keep him and some continuity.

Goalies and Depth Forwards

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    Antti Niemi is a Vezina Trophy candidate this season and a recent Stanley Cup winning goalie. But going with either Alex Stalock or Harri Sateri as a backup leaves the team vulnerable.

    Still, if he is healthy and not fatigued come playoff time, Nemo will not need a backup. That means this unit is good enough to win it all.

    Adam Burish and T.J. Galiardi would be solid fourth-line choices, but they would probably have to carry John McCarthy, at least at first. The team could spend the minimum on someone like Matt Pelech for his versatility as a potential emergency fill-in on either the wing or the blue line.

    That leaves the team one player short on reserves but allows them to field a full squad. It also gives them about $200,000 in flexibility in case they have to call up a more expensive replacement due to injury.

    But even an optimistic view leaves them with question marks on three lines and their backup goalie. Teams like that have rarely answered enough of those answers to win a Stanley Cup.

    Thus, they might as well go all-in to win it this year. They should be able to trade talent for prospects this summer if it does not work out.