NHL Free Agents 2011: Why the San Jose Sharks Must Make More Moves

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJuly 7, 2011

NHL Free Agents 2011: Why the San Jose Sharks Must Make More Moves

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    The San Jose Sharks signed their first free agents after swapping Dany Heatley for Minnesota's Martin Havlat.

    But the players signed are not even projected to make the team's opening game roster. Thus, they will not count against the team's salary cap.

    The blockbuster trade opened up cap space for the team, leaving it with $3.9 million in space once they fill out their roster by adding the only three remaining forwards with NHL experience.

    This is not even factoring in that anyone signed would replace a contract on the roster. This could free up between $1.1 and $1.8 million without affecting any one who dressed on a nightly basis.

    In other words, the Sharks could spend as much as $5.7 million on two players. Sharks GM Doug Wilson himself said the window to win a title could shut in the next three years.

    You do not carry a balance of nearly $4 million on that kind of team if you can afford to spend to the cap. Wilson needs to spend the money to upgrade the players who will be dressed, because significant mid-season trades have yet to work for him (see 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010).

    In this look at each Sharks unit, it is obvious there are still holes on this team that may hold them back from getting past the elite teams of the Western Conference.


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    Right now, the Sharks have a top 10 first line and one of the very best second lines. They have a solid third line but an untested fourth line and almost no one behind them to fill in on that line in the event of injury.

    The top line plays about 21 minutes a night, and the second plays about 18. The third is usually out for 15, and three of those players comprising the fourth get about six.

    This means the ratio by line in minutes is 7:6:5:2. From that and a ranking of each line, we can obtain a formula by which to judge the Sharks unit.

    Counting only players signed for 2011-12 on teams' current rosters, the Sharks first line ranks behind Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, Anaheim, and maybe the Los Angeles Kings (Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown.) Multiply the eighth rank by the factor of seven, and the value is 56.

    The second line ranks behind only Detroit and Pittsburgh. Multiply the third ranking by a factor of six, and the value is 18.

    The third line ranks in the middle oft the pack and assigning a rank of 15 times the ratio of time on the ice creates a value of 75. The fourth line and beyond would be in the bottom third of the league—say 23rd—making the value of its ice time and ranking about 46.

    Adding those values (56+18+75+46=190) and dividing by the sum of their factors (20) gives one an idea of the unit's overall rating. The average of 9.5 means the Sharks forwards are barely a top 10 unit around the league.

Blue Line

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    Similarly, a blue line's top two defencemen (note: often not playing on the same pair) play about 25 minutes, the second-best two play about 20 minutes, and the third pair and beyond play about 15. That ratio is a simpler 5:4:3.

    The Sharks have two All-Star quality defencemen (i.e. Top 15 in the league) in Brent Burns and Dan Boyle. That makes the Sharks blue line as strong at the top as any currently construed outside of Chicago (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) and Detroit (Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall). A third ranking multiplied by a factor of five gives us a value of 15.

    Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are probably both among the 100 best defencemen in the game. Since the average team would have a average ranking with these two players of 90.5, this makes a ranking of 16th about right. Multiplied by the factor of four, the value is 64.

    The rest of the blue line is a bit weak. Jim Vandermeer is slow, Jason Demers has struggled defensively, and Justin Braun has struggled even more, with just 28 games of NHL experience. The Sharks now have two players behind these three with a total of nine games of experience.

    Since the ninth and 10th players on this unit were called upon over the least two seasons, a ranking appropriate for the depth of this unit is 18th. This value of 54 gives the unit a 133 sum, or an average of about 11th.


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    The Sharks have Antti Niemi as their starting goaltender. Where does he rank around the league?

    For one, he has a 24-15 playoff record with six series wins to one loss. He is one of only four Stanley Cup-winning goalies who played well enough to win 30 games last season, meaning he is a current winner.

    Niemi ranked fourth in point percentage (behind Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas and Jimmy Howard) in the regular season among those goalies. His goals against average was ninth among them, and his save percentage was eighth.

    Only Luongo, Thomas, Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne rank ahead of him in both categories. Even if you throw in being the starting goaltender for a gold medal with Stanley Cup titles, only three of those goalies are championship calibre.

    Still, a ranking of sixth for Nemo seems fair. Because starters play three times as often as backups, this gives the team a value of 18 (6x3) for the starting goalie.

    Antero Niittymaki ranked 26th in winning percentage among goalies playing more than 10 games. In the more individual statistics, he was 41st in GAA and 56th in save percentage.

    That places him squarely in the middle for backup goalies. However, considering his experience is better than most, ranking him in the top half (say 14th) seems right.

    This means the Sharks have about the eighth-best netminding in the game (18+14=32, divided by the total factor of four).

    That gives the three units an average ranking of only about 10th. That does not scream progress from last year's conference finals loss.