The proverbial window of opportunity closing on the San Jose Sharks is a common misconception you hear from hockey experts, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Joe Thornton may have enjoyed his finest season as a pro, and playing with a separated shoulder in the playoffs cemented his place as captain of the Sharks. Patrick Marleau continued to show why he’s as dangerous as anybody in the playoffs, leading the way with multiple key goals. The future looks bright with players like Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Demers all taking big steps in the postseason.
The Sharks trail only the Detroit Red Wings in winning percentage for the last seven years, and their core is entering their prime and ready to maintain their success.
Still though, there are some serious questions to be asked in the offseason for Sharks GM Doug Wilson. With seven unrestricted free agents and several key restricted ones, the Sharks could look very different next season.
While the 2010-11 season certainly wasn’t a disappointment, the team needs some upgrading in key areas to take the next step. Wilson must manage his decisions wisely and make use of the increased salary cap that will land between $60.5m and $63.5m, as reported by Forbes.com.
Let’s take a look at the free agents currently on the roster and possible free agent targets the San Jose Sharks could sign in order to take the next step towards the Stanley Cup.
This is part one of the three-part series previewing the Sharks offseason, so let’s get started.
All data used in this article are referenced from capgeek.com and behindthenet.ca.
Jamie-McGinn (RFA): He’s a hard-working fourth-liner that helped the Sharks match the Canucks with his speed and size. He’s not going to light up any scoreboards anytime soon, but his physical play is a welcome and needed ingredient on the fourth line.
Benn Ferriero (RFA): Celebrated his birthday with his playoff game-winner against Detroit, but was scratched against the Canucks. Ferriero’s got good wheels and a nice skill-set, but his size isn’t exactly ideal for fourth-line work. At $865,000, he’s got to find a spot and stick on the roster to justify his number next year.
Andrew Desjardins (RFA): One-third of the newly formed fourth line that had some success for San Jose in the Western Conference Finals, Desjardins has upside. While he’s still raw and young and his decision making must improve (three consecutive poor quality shots in one Game 5 shift), at $500,000 he’s still valuable for San Jose.
Ben Eager (UFA): Yes, he can hurt the team with untimely penalties and his questionable tactics, but he’s a gamer. He’s got the speed and size to make a huge impact on any given night and should be considered a must re-sign for the Sharks' questionable fourth line.
Todd McLellan was quick to sit Eager in the playoffs following his tussle with Kyle Clifford on the Stoll boarding play, as well as the Bertuzzi incident in the Red Wings series. Eager knows what McLellan expects of him, and it’s no small coincidence that Eager’s return to the ice helped the Sharks close out LA and Detroit.
So long as Eager’s price tag doesn’t exceed the current $965,000, his re-signing is a no-brainer. He improves team speed, will never stop skating and knows how to play in the West.
Devin Setoguchi (RFA - $1.8m): Toughest call of them all; does Wilson re-sign young Devin Setoguchi or use his rights to acquire a championship caliber defender? This decision more than any other single roster move may decide how effective the Sharks will be not only next season, but in the immediate future.
He’s been a huge part of San Jose’s playoff success and his re-signing must come at the right price in order to not rock the salary cap boat. Having said that, however, he's the most attractive option for trade bait, as his youth, skill and speed make him valuable to other teams.
Kyle Wellwood (UFA - $650k): Wellwood is cheap and provides some offensive creativity on the third line, so I won’t lie and say he's useless. While it’s possible he’s due a raise, based on this season he projects as a 25-point forward, and with his lacking playoff performance against the Canucks, it couldn’t be much of one.
Jamal Mayers (UFA - $600k): Jamal was part of the fourth-line solution for San Jose but was outperformed on several shifts by Desjardins and McGinn. While his penalty killing ability is valuable, Mayers doesn’t bring much else to the table and the Sharks have younger, faster and hungrier options.
Kent Huskins (UFA - $1.7m): Husky stabilized his play after a rough Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, but it’s time to move on. His lack of foot speed was exposed several times by Vancouver’s fourth liners and his decision-making, while solid, isn’t very dynamic.
Husky can still play a role on a team somewhere, and he provides the reliable play out of the Sharks' zone. Problem is, the reliable play isn’t always conducive to a sustained attack, as Huskins will err on the side of caution far too often.
Niclas Wallin: (UFA - $2.65m): Wallin had a few bright moments for the Sharks in the playoffs, but at this cap hit, should not return. He continues to be a turnover machine in his own zone and, at times, befuddles with his decision making.
Doug Wilson is still loyal as ever and loves his Stanley Cup winners, so it’s entirely possible Wallin returns. But it can’t be for anywhere near $2.65 million; his play does not justify that cap hit on a team near the cap ceiling.
Scott Nichol (UFA - $760k): His faceoff ability buoyed the team in the early parts of the season after losing Malhotra, and Nichol still logs quite a bit of ice time on the penalty kill. He’s been a big part of the team, but Nichol’s time may be coming to an end for the San Jose Sharks.
In the playoffs, Nichol struggled against the bigger Kings forwards and got dominated in the faceoff circle. At 22 wins and 27 losses, his winning percentage of 46 percent was even worse than Logan Couture, despite 31 less attempts.
His percentage came back up to 58 percent in the dot against the less physical Red Wings team, but Nichol’s small stature may leave him without a chair when the music stops.
Although he could still be of use and is relatively cheap, Nichol was scratched against Vancouver after 15 straight playoff starts. The newly formed fourth line was considerably better versus the Canucks, which raises questions about Nichol’s future in teal. McLellan kept Nichol out of the lineup despite the Sharks being dominated in the faceoff circle by Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin.
Ian White (UFA - $2.9m): This is a tough one because Ian White alleviated pressure off of Dan Boyle, restored some puck mobility to the blue line and played important power-play minutes.
But when faced with increased ice time, White’s defensive game blew a gasket against Detroit and Vancouver. When asked to step up and take on second pairing minutes, White and Wallin faltered more than they flew.
White got burned against the Vancouver third line several times, especially in the crease, resulting in some untimely goals against. Both he and Wallin got a little too aggressive against the Red Wings and got caught too far up ice quite a few times, capped by a combined minus-six in Game 5.
He should return, but hopefully with a hometown discount or a “show me” short-term contract. If White’s number is anywhere near the current cap hit of $3 million, he should be allowed to walk.
Rob Niedermayer – Buffalo Sabres
Niedermayer is an excellent veteran forward that could bring size and speed to the Sharks’ checking line. He knows how to play in the West, having won a Cup with Anaheim, and can lend his leadership to youngsters Desjardins and McGinn.
He’s not spectacular in the faceoff circle, but would easily be one of McLellan’s top calls should he join the Sharks. He figures to be relatively affordable coming off his $1.2 million cap hit a year ago and could provide an instant boost to the Sharks' fourth line.
Joel Ward – Nashville Predators
Joel Ward is another big body (6'1", 218 lbs) that plays a physical game, has good wheels and is a forechecking machine. He’s versatile and plays a very effective role for the Nashville Predators on the penalty kill.
Ward was Nashville’s unsung hero in the playoffs, registering a point in every playoff game but two and led the way with seven goals. Coming off of last year’s cap hit of $1.5 million, Ward could be a huge pickup for San Jose if Nashville has their hands full trying to retain Shea Weber.
Brooks Laich – Washington Capitals
He’s in the prime of his career and a UFA that carried a $2 million cap hit a year ago. He’s got the size (6'2", 200 lbs) to play in front of the net and along the boards. He’s a terrific penalty killer, excellent faceoff man and plays a rugged game that translates well in the playoffs. He’s also a good locker room leader and isn’t afraid to blow the whistle on himself for poor play.
Laich consistently faces the best the opposition has to offer, with only seven centers facing higher quality of competition at even strength, according to behindthenet.ca. He’s also in the top 10 in goal differential/60 minutes and even strength rating, but could be too expensive for San Jose.
With Justin Braun and Nick Petrecki waiting in the wings, one can safely assume that Doug Wilson may be asking one of them to step up into the third pair next year. With the departure of Huskins, Wallin and perhaps White, the Sharks will need at least one new shutdown defender to compensate.
Hal Gill (UFA) – Montreal Canadiens
He could be on the outside looking in as the Montreal Canadiens have a glut of defenseman and just a few places at the table. He’s another leader, great shot blocker, has a huge frame, is terrific on the penalty kill and has a huge wingspan.
He’s not the most fleet footed defender, or youngest one either, and might not come cheap if another team wants to overpay for his services. But he’s a battle tested, postseason proven defender that could be a rock in the San Jose zone and clear the crease for Niemi.
Eric Brewer (UFA) – Tampa Bay Lightning
Brewer is an ideal candidate for the San Jose Sharks, but he’s not going to come cheap, as last year’s cap hit was $4.25 million. Tampa Bay could have their hands full as Steven Stamkos’ entry-level contract is expiring, and two-thirds of their potent third line in Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell are free agents.
He’s a leader, excellent in his own zone, has great size and good wheels but doesn’t figure to come cheap. Ian White most likely would not be re-signed for this scenario to play out, and the Sharks would be relying heavily on Braun to help lead the breakout and contribute on the second power-play unit.
It will definitely be a big offseason for the San Jose Sharks, and free agency will be one of the pivotal factors, as the Sharks don't have many assets to trade.
While some fans may look for the summer blockbuster, like a Shea Weber, the compensation for an RFA offer that Weber would command is staggering. As much as we'd all love to see one of the best defenseman in the NHL suit up for Team Teal, the compensation for a Weber would be four first-round draft picks, a stiff price indeed.
A glimpse back at the Vancouver series shows the difference between the two clubs, and it’s quite clear to even the average observer. Vancouver’s depth on defense and overall team speed allowed them to match the Sharks' secondary scoring, leading to increased ice time and fatigue for key Sharks.
Is there any wonder then to the disturbing trend of third period collapses that ultimately ruined the team’s chances of a Stanley Cup?
There's still quite a few questions for the Sharks, and GM Doug Wilson must answer them while keeping his focus on the future. But the team's core is intact, under contract and ready to continue their run in the Western Conference. With some slight tinkering, the Sharks should be ready to take the next step.