The first order of business is to look at what you have under contract. Both Sharks goalies are signed, but only 11 regular skaters are under contract next season—seven forwards and four on the blueline. Even with a projected increase of about $3 million in the salary cap, the team is thought to lose more than it gains.
Here are three reasons why:
1. The money committed to Antti Niemi for the new contract that kicks in next year represents a $1.8 million increase over what he was paid in 2010-11.
2. Thanks to pro-rating, the Sharks only had to pay a portion of the additional contracts taken on late in the season, as Kyle Wellwood, Ben Eager, and Ian White were all added without a commiserate loss of other roster salaries. To pay them over a full season at last season's pay rate—less than they will make—would add nearly $4 million to the cap hit.
3. Most of the players going to free agency have earned raises.
For this reason, it is a good idea to look at players on the roster who may be bargaining assets for a trade. These would be players of value who may be in positions the Sharks have depth to make room for places they do not.
The first thing this draws attention to is goaltender, where the Sharks have just declared Niemi their starter with the new contract worth $3.8 million per year. Meanwhile, Anterro Niittymaki sits behind him being paid $2 million a year, and enough goalies are in the system to take the chance that one of them is capable of playing a dozen or so games a year at the NHL level.
Niitty is capable of competing for a starting position somewhere. Just as the Sharks may be spending a lot for him to play a backup role, no other team will want to make that sacrifice. This leaves teams relying on unproven goalies or those with a history of injuries in the pool of interested candidates.
However, according to HockeyBuzz.com, over half the teams in the NHL (15 others plus the Sharks) have enough committed to next season to be over the current cap. This suggests that even with the expected increase in cap, trades meant to alleviate the Sharks cap issues are unlikely with those teams.
That narrows the list of teams most likely to be trading partners with the Sharks to the Florida Panthers ($17.5 million committed to nine players), New York Islanders ($20 million to nine players), Colorado Avalanche ($27 million to 11 players), Phoenix Coyotes ($28 million to 12 players before re-signing backup goalie Jason Labarbera to an undisclosed two-year deal), Toronto Maple Leafs ($36 million on 12 players), Ottawa Senators ($38 million to 14), and maybe the Chicago Blackhawks ($51 million to 12 players).
However, the Toronto Maple Leafs are most likely going to re-sign James Reiner, who they should have more faith in than Niitty and keep Jonas Gustavsson as a back-up and potential starter.
Check out the companion piece on Sports Haze Bay Area for a look at potential trades that might interest each of the other teams.