With the Sharks season coming to an abrupt and much earlier-than-anticipated end, the focus on the offseason has the rumor mill already churning in Northern California.
With the obvious defensive and depth issues looming ahead, general manager Doug Wilson faces a daunting task of filling those needs while balancing a very top-heavy roster. If Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin are allowed to leave as expected, free agency is a very likely avenue to address those voids on the blue line.
Trade options could certainly change the complexion of the San Jose Sharks roster, but in this write-up we rank the possible UFA defensemen from two different outlooks.
From puck-moving defensemen as well as shutdown defenders, all UFA defenders are ranked by cap hit and how well they fit into what the Sharks need. Puck-moving defensemen are ranked using Gabriel Desjardins' Corsi ratings, specifically "Corsi Relative to Quality of Competition" (Corsi Rel QoC), providing a glimpse at how well they keep the play moving against quality of competition.
All defensive blueliners are ranked from their defensive zone starts and on-ice/off-ice plus-minus ratings as well as time on ice per 60 minutes (TOI/60). For the sake of brevity, I have excluded defensive numbers for free agents that do not qualify for top-four minutes.
All statistics are gleaned from behindthenet.ca and all salary cap hit figures come directly from capgeek.com.
Although he’s a largely unheralded player and often overlooked, Salo still has a terrific shot from the point and plays a very solid defensive game. His 1.071 Corsi Rel QoC is second only to fellow UFA Niklas Lidstrom, and Salo plays big minutes against some pretty fierce opposition.
The problem is he’s 36 and injury prone, and played in just 27 games last year while carrying a $3.5 million cap hit.
He’s got a huge frame, he’s young and developing nicely—Ericsson has all the intangibles to be a great fit on the Sharks blue line. Both he and the Red Wings have yet to reach an agreement, but there’s little doubt that Ericsson will stay in Detroit.
Kevin Bieksa/Christian Ehrhoff
Both players are excellent defenders in their own rights, and Bieksa has certainly answered his critics this season after being the topic of trade discussions a year ago.
However both will command a very high cap hit, and I don’t think the Canucks will let Bieksa make it to free agency. Ehrhoff brings an offensive tool set familiar to the Sharks, but isn’t worth the $5-plus million tag it will require to sign him.
When the Kaberle-to-San Jose winds blew last year, I didn't feel it was a very good fit and he's been underwhelming since joining Boston.
He dislikes playing in the West, and given the Bruins' lack of improvement on the power play since arriving via trade and Kaberle’s high price tag, this is an obvious pass for the Sharks.
He’s not quite the defenseman he used to be, but can still play a very dependable game in his own end and lend his veteran leadership to a young partner.
He’s definitely as slow as Huskins or Wallin and is coming off of a $5.5 million deal in Montreal where he could be the odd man out.
Although his Corsi Rel QoC is a solid .844 in 79 games, I just don’t see how Hamrlik makes sense unless it’s an insanely cheap one-year contract.
Even then it’s questionable how much he has left in the tank, but he can still rack up the points as evidenced by his 34 points in 2010-11.
A depth defenseman for much of his career, Montador carried a $1.55 million cap hit a year ago and enjoyed a breakout season with 26 points and a nifty plus-16 rating.
His play tailed off toward the end of the year, however, as he saw his minutes decrease and turnovers increase.
He may be a bit of a long shot, but for a reasonable price Montador could be the fifth or sixth man and see limited action on the second power-play unit. He's not much of an increase in team speed, but he's still effective at even strength and one of the handful of available free agents with a TOI/60 over 15.
He’s a solid candidate for the third pair in San Jose, and brings a very reliable and solid first pass out of the zone. He’s versatile, plays a very good positional game as a jack of many trades, but has been prone to injury.
He’s ahead of Scott Hannan in the Corsi Rel QoC department with a 0.332, good for ninth best as far as UFA defensemen are concerned.
Coming off a $1.5 million deal, Martinek played in just 64 games this past year, recording three goals and 13 assists with a minus-five rating.
Although he’s 34 and not the same player he once was, I wouldn’t want to say that to his face in his crease. At his hefty cap hit of $6.5 million a year ago, he’s also not the best bang-for-the-buck defender as far as points are concerned.
Jovanovski is in the middle of the pack in TOI/60 amongst UFA blueliners, and had a difficult time playing his style after missing time with a broken jaw.
He’s an upgrade but for anywhere close to that cap hit, the Sharks should pass on "JovoCop."
A familiar face in Scott Hannan also figures to be available coming off a $ 4.5 million cap hit a year ago. The Washington Capitals have seven defenders under contract already and that’s without prospect Dmitri Orlov.
It doesn’t seem likely he’ll return to Washington given the Caps' lack of success with one-year rentals for three consecutive years. Hannan is still plenty good but his play at even strength took another dip, as well as TOI/60 among available defenders.
His game needs no reminding for Sharks fans and could make sense in a return to teal, but he’s lost a step since leaving San Jose. He posted his second consecutive negative "goals for" while on the ice per 60 minutes of ice time (GF/60) and struggled in the early going with the Avalanche.
At a discounted rate, however, who wouldn’t want to see Hannan back there again for the Sharks?
Hejda takes on top-pair minutes for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and had five goals and 15 assists a year ago. Coming off of his $2 million deal, he could bolster the bottom pairing for San Jose and could bump someone on the second line.
He’s steady at even strength leading the way for the Blue Jackets, although, as the skill level rose, his play tailed off against top-notch opposition. He's still among the top half of available defensemen in "goals against" while a player is on the ice per 60 minutes of ice time (GA/60) and he's fourth in TOI/60 with 17.13.
Hejda could step right into the second pair and make an immediate difference, especially if someone is moved.
Steve Yzerman will have his hands full this offseason, but is in an enviable situation with a Tampa Bay squad that came very close to reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Steven Stamkos is coming off his entry-level contract of $3.725 million, and they have two very important cogs on their third line in Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell to re-sign.
He’s got the wheels and the size to play in all the areas on the ice and the skills to shut down the opposition. He's young and still developing his game and would transform the Sharks blue line and lock down play in their own zone.
There will definitely be a bidding war for his services, so it’s highly unlikely the Sharks sign him but you can’t deny the impact his presence would have.
Leading all UFA defensemen in TOI/60 with 18.62, Pitkanen was a rock at even strength and at 27 years of age is entering his prime. He was a $4 million cap hit last year, however, and could easily get pushed out of reach in a bidding war.
Recording five goals and 30 assists in 72 games on a middle-of-the-road "goals for" team in the Hurricanes, Pitkanen has the skill set to make the difference offensively.
He’s been dogged with inconsistency for a large part of his career, but he’s still young and could blossom in the right scenario.
Arguably the cheapest and most effective defenseman in the NHL last year, Greene is due a substantial pay raise from his $750,000 cap hit a year ago. He’s an excellent penalty killer, and stands out in shots-against in 4-on-5 play according to behindthenet.ca for the Devils.
He’s in the middle of the pack at even strength, however, and doesn’t exactly intimidate his opponents. Still he could easily step into the second pair and bolster the Sharks depth.
The problem is the Devils are best positioned to re-sign him and, although they have cap issues of their own, I’d be hard pressed to believe that Greene doesn’t remain in New Jersey.
He wouldn’t be the answer but he’s very effective out of his zone, makes the smart play and leads a good breakout.
I’m not sure why Wisniewski bounced around so much last year, but he had a great season with 10 goals and 41 assists.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson missed the boat three times with Wisniewski last year, but could sign him to give the power play a shot in the arm this offseason.
Montreal now has four defensemen under contract in P.K. Subban, Jaroslav Spacek, Alexei Yemelin and Gill. With Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges undoubtedly due an offer, Wisniewski could be on his way out with the Habs.
He’s just 27 years old and could be breaking out. He has a big shot from the point and likes to mix things up in the crease. He’s the second-best UFA defenseman available behind Christian Ehrhoff in GF/60 with 2.16, leaving no doubt he will improve the Sharks "goals for."
At last year’s cap hit of $3.25 million, however, he’ll be a prime target for any team looking for power-play help. He can get too aggressive leading to defensive breakdowns—not exactly what the Sharks need—and it could be the deal-breaker should Wilson choose not to pursue him.