Top 5 Free Agent Targets for the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks
Before the San Jose Sharks can go looking for new free agents to sign, they must finish signing their own.
The last of the series on who should stay and who should go (with links to the rest done for Examiner.com) predicts they should have about $6 million left under the 2013-14 salary cap. There would be 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies on the roster.
The Cap Calculator on Cap Geek also lists that same amount of room on the roster. One potential complication is the injury to Martin Havlat, which may block a compliance buyout on him, but they could at the very least bury him in the minors or convince him to play in his native Czech Republic to take him off their payroll.
If that's the case, San Jose then has room to sign almost anyone to bolster its anemic scoring. But that lineup also relies on a lot of youth to fill out the blue line and goaltending, leaving a lot of uncertainty.
They would also need another scoring line forward. It is possible that Tomas Hertl could make the team, but unlikely that he is ready for that much responsibility. The Sharks would probably have to send a veteran role player down and still see their cap space drop to about $5.4 million.
A team with so many veterans in the last year of their contract needs to look at this season as their last chance to get a Stanley Cup with this core. That means spending all of that money to get a player or two better and get over the top. It also means looking at whether they want to count on so many young players.
With that in mind, we take a look at what is out there to boost San Jose. It is most likely that any additions will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs), since teams rarely sign away anyone significant that is restricted, so that is the focus here.
Cap Geek projected almost all UFAs at the same cost as last year (they will face a buyer's market preventing them from getting big raises), but some variance from that will be considered. Here are the five players to pursue, their approximate cost and how they fit the team's needs for 2013-14.
Nathan Horton is just 28 years old and is already a scoring line forward on a Stanley Cup Finals team. He is in the last year of a $4 million contract, and this will be his first as an unrestricted free agent.
One thing that might keep Horton's contract from taking up all the remaining space for the San Jose Sharks is his injury struggles. But realistically his cost should go up even if his name is not etched on the Holy Grail of Hockey this season.
Either way, he provides the scoring ability the team needs as well as any forward on the market while being young enough to be a part of its future. Even if he does spend some time out of the lineup, he will provide more for Logan Couture's line than Martin Havlat did.
Derek Roy is arguably the best two-way forward that is still young enough (at 30 years old) to be with the new-look San Jose Sharks after they go through their likely significant changes over the next year or so.
Teams lacking depth often need players that can help on special teams. The Sharks could use Roy on the power play or penalty kill, and he has playoff experience. They can easily afford him and probably still have enough room to sign a veteran role player on the back end.
If the San Jose Sharks cannot get either Derek Roy or Nathan Horton—or anyone better, of course—there is no shortage of other candidates offering similar production. If they have to go this far down the ranks, they should be looking for the best UFA under $3.5 million, with an eye toward youth.
The best option would be Dustin Penner. Outside of 17 points in 65 games last season, he has ranged between almost two and four points in every five games in each season since the previous lockout ended.
The 30-year-old is young enough to help for a few years. He brings championship pedigree in part because he performs well in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And of course, it does not hurt to take a player away from a Pacific Division rival that they could have beaten with two more goals in the Western Conference semifinals.
Another way the San Jose Sharks could take their rivals down a peg would be to steal their best free-agent defenseman, 34-year old veteran Rob Scuderi.
They have two veritable rookies (Matt Tennyson and Matt Irwin) likely to be relied on extensively with the current depth chart, even with the projected re-signing of Scott Hannan. Moreover, the extremely strong blue line general manager Doug Wilson foresaw when he traded for Brent Burns is not there.
Signing the two-time champion Scuderi would easily put San Jose's blue line in the discussion for best in the NHL. Given the defensive identity of the team, going after a top-tier defender could be an alternative to bolstering the forwards.
It's more likely they will take having a good blue line that signing a third-pair player like Hannan would provide, as opposed to a questionable forward corps.
If they want to go after another player to allow Tennyson another year in the minor leagues, Cam Barker would be a great fit. He moves okay and has experience at just 27 years old, meaning there is room for improvement. He should be available for under $1 million—probably less than Hannan.
The San Jose Sharks are taking quite a risk going with a backup goalie with almost no NHL experience. Bringing in a veteran to compete with him might be a wise thing to do as long as they come at a bargain, allowing them to make another move from this list and still have room.
Michael Leighton would fit the bill nicely. Here again, there are no shortage of options should someone want him more, especially since this is one place an aging veteran works well.
The 32-year-old should come at a reasonable cost, even though he has shown flashes of No. 1 goalie play. He cannot expect to compete for that role now if he failed to grab it at an earlier age and does not need regular play to develop his game.
Leighton is who he is—good enough to keep a team in the running for a short time, but not able to pick a team based on money or playing time. That makes San Jose—a team in contention with great goalie coaching and a nice place to live—as appealing as anywhere.