July 2, 2010
Following an NHL team during the offseason is a bit like waiting for a Polaroid picture to develop (for my younger readers, check Wikipedia).
Slowly but surely you wait and watch as out of foggy nothingness edges start to sharpen, shapes start to take form, and colors start to emerge, until the image comes fully into focus.
For the soon-to-be 2010-2011 San Jose Sharks, this development is still a work in progress.
The release of Evgeni Nabokov, re-signing of Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Scott Nichol, and Niclas Wallin, the signing of unrestricted free agent goaltender Antero Niittymaki, and the failure to retain gritty forward and faceoff phenom Manny Malhotra have brought the major elements of the upcoming roster into view, but some critical details are still elusive.
Why was Wallin given $2.5 million? Why was Niittymaki given $2 million? Surely this money could have been better used elsewhere.
Niittymaki is a capable netminder who nearly carried the Finnish national team to a gold medal in the Torino Olympics in 2006 (Go Tre Kronor), but with Marty Biron, Dan Ellis, and even Chris Mason signing elsewhere for less, was he worth this investment? Wallin brings valuable Stanley Cup experience, but $2.5 million is just plain too much to pay for a No. 6 or No. 7 defenseman.
The Sharks did clear themselves of at least $9 million in 2010-2011 salary by parting ways with Nabby and Manny, and the money given Marleau and Pavelski certainly did not eat up that entire margin.
Even when you add in the raise given Wallin and the assumed overage to sign Nittymaki, Team Teal should still have some money to play with for the remainder of free agency.
Even so, with Wallin being overpaid by probably $1-1.5 million, and Niittymaki being given at least $1 million more than anyone expected him to command, the Sharks excluded themselves from the possibility of targeting another role player in the $2.5 million range, or pooling that money with remaining funds and going after a bigger name.
But things are not all bleak. The Sharks still have the money to target a variety of free agents who could improve their team moving forward. Defense must be a priority now, as goaltending has been addressed and the top two to three lines of forwards are more or less set.
With Rob Blake's retirement the Sharks should seek another fundamentally sound veteran to work alongside youngsters Jason Demers, Derek Joslin, and perhaps a few others, whom Doug Wilson has said the team expects to push for more playing time this season.
Names like Dan Hamuis, Henrik Tallinder, and Anton Volchenkov are no longer available (and probably would have been too expensive given the above reasons), but Andreas Lilja, Anton Stralman, or Brett Lebda could make excellent alternatives at an affordable price.
Young forwards like Benn Ferriero, Logan Couture, Frazer McLaren, Jamie McGinn, and Ryan Vesce (if-resigned) all expect to fight for playing time and should get the opportunity. The Sharks seem to be looking to transition them into a larger role within the team, rather than targeting the biggest and best veteran stars.
Perhaps one of them can offset the dearth in faceoff talent left by Malhotra's departure. Never forget, with Doug Wilson a trade is always a possibility too.
As the rest of the 2010-2011 San Jose Sharks picture pulls into focus, fans will have to wait and hope they like what they eventually see. We do know that a core group of veterans looks to split time with an upcoming talented group of rookies and youngsters in the hopes of finding a winning combination.
We do not yet know who will offset the holes left by Malhotra and Blake, nor why Wallin and Nittymaki were seemingly overpaid. No amount of shaking or blowing on the Polaroid will expedite the process of learning these answers, and in some cases we may not find out.
Patience is a virtue, and the offseason is still a work in progress.
Keep the faith!