If the San Jose Sharks don't want their 2009-2010 season to end in the disappointment that saw defenseman Douglas Murray console teammate Jeremy Roenick last year, then general manager Doug Wilson is going to have to get creative in free agency.
Over the last couple days, Wilson has already started preparing for the beginning of free agency, which starts tonight at 9 PM local time when July 1 comes about on the East Coast.
Wilson has made qualifying offers to four restricted free agents including Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, and Brad Staubitz, all of whom should see plenty of playing time with the Sharks next season (the fourth player was Minor League goaltender, Thomas Greiss).
Of course, in order to keep the players given qualifying offers, Wilson will have to match any offers from other clubs.
However, unless a team immensely overpays for the services of either one of the Sharks' restricted free agents, it would be highly unlikely that Wilson wouldn't match the offer.
Not only has Wilson offered qualifying contracts to keep his restricted free agents from becoming unrestricted, he has also already made a significant re-signing.
Just yesterday, Wilson resigned defenseman Rob Blake to a one year, $3.5 million contract, $1.5 million less than last season.
With the current state of the economy and the subsequent decrease in salary cap for next season, it is vital that the Sharks can sign players to minimal contracts.
Although, signing Blake to another one-year deal may not have been what many fans had hoped for as Blake, who will turn 40-years-old in December, seemed to tail off during the postseason.
That being said, when it comes to all the soon-to-be-unrestricted free agents who are still currently property of the Sharks, it would be wise for Wilson to make offers to those he wants to return before free agency hits.
Current Sharks who could hit the free agent mark are Mike Grier, Jeremy Roenick, Alexei Semenov, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins, and Brian Boucher.
If Roenick comes back at all, it will be with San Jose and therefore essentially Wilson had nothing to worry about with JR and neither Alexei Semenov nor goaltender Brian Boucher seem to have much of a market in free agency.
However, if Doug Wilson and his coaching staff have decided on whether or not they want to bring back either Mike Grier, Kent Huskins, or Travis Moen, they ought to do whatever it takes to sign them before 9 PM tonight.
Mike Grier has been a tremendous penalty killer over the years but will most likely be overpaid in free agency. The same goes for Travis Moen, who is the same type of player but seven years younger.
Sharks fans never got a chance to see Kent Huskins in uniform, but the former Anaheim Duck has all the tools to be an elite defenseman in this league and letting him hit free agency would be an extremely bad move, as the market for bruising defenseman with quality puck-moving abilities is extremely high.
If Wilson wants to bring any of these three back for another season, he may want to ink them now before they hit the open market. If not, the price might go up for each of their services.
Now, added to the fact that there is no way of knowing whether Grier or Moen will be back, Wilson has recently parted ways with forwards Marcel Goc and Tomas Plihal.
Therefore, the Sharks top-12 forward group is currently quite empty.
In no set order, the Sharks forward lines look as such:
Marleau Thornton Setoguchi
Michalek Pavelski Clowe
Perhaps Brad Staubitz and Jody Shelley will fill in a couple of roster spots in the top-12 forward group, but it would be highly unlikely both of them would see significant playing time next season. Look for Jody Shelley to be let go sometime before the season begins and Brad Staubitz to start the year with a lineup spot.
But even after adding Staubitz to the forward group, the sharks still have an entire forward line's worth of players to add to their lineup.
The Sharks could fill in the rest of their forward lineup with players from last season's team. If the Sharks brought back all their unrestricted free agents, the forward lines may look as such:
Marleau Thornton Setoguchi
Michalek Pavelski Clowe
Moen Mitchell Cheechoo
Grier Roenick Staubitz
However, that group would be awfully similar to last season's main lineup and Doug Wilson has made it clear that there are going to be significant changes to the lineup this season. In fact, Wilson has been quoted as saying their will be "six to eight significant lineup changes."
Knowing that, it seems pretty clear that Mike Grier won't be resigned, and neither will Travis Moen. Plus there is a feeling around San Jose that Roenick will call it quits after 20 years in the NHL.
If that's the case, Wilson has at least three starting forward positions to fill, as well as perhaps a backup goal-tending hole to fill. And whether or not Evgeni Nabokov is traded, the goalie the Sharks sign may not be just your average backup net-minder.
It has been well documented that the Sharks are one of four teams with a chance at signing Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who is thought of as the top professional goaltender outside of the NHL.
Even if San Jose misses out on the Swede, it would not be surprising if the Sharks went after top notch free agent net-minders Martin Biron, Manny Fernandez, or Nikolai Khabibulin.
In any case, as GM of team that is continually referred to as "playoff chokers" by fans around the hockey world, Doug Wilson is going to be very busy making the changes he thinks are necessary in order to get the Sharks back to playoff respectability.
Hopefully the Sharks will go after a few players that would fit well in the their system.
Detroit's Mikael Samuelsson is set to be a free agent come July 1, and his grit, speed, and savvy play would be a huge boost on the third line as a right-wing.
On the left side, Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Cole would be a huge boost given that Cole would bring added experience to the forward group and would become the only Sharks forward with a Stanley Cup ring.
Not only that but Cole has put up 42 points, 51 points, and 61 points in each of the last three seasons and would add scoring depth for the Sharks who relied too heavily on their top two lines for offense last season.
Last but not least, if Roenick indeed decides to hang up the skates, then a veteran center like Radek Bonk or Michael Peca would be adequate replacements who can play on the fourth line.
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