NHL Free Agents 2011: Top 10 RFAs the San Jose Sharks Can Target

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJuly 11, 2011

NHL Free Agents 2011: Top 10 RFAs the San Jose Sharks Can Target

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    Even after signing two forwards to rotate on the fourth line, the San Jose Sharks have over $5 million in cap space.

    With roster depth hurting from the team that fell in five games in the Western Conference finals, there is little doubt they intend to sign more talent. But with unrestricted free agents left on the market unlikely to garner interest anywhere near their cap space, there is another way they can go.

    Sure, they could make more trades. But this team has already traded away enough draft picks to leave the cupboard bare with any more.

    Worse, losing talent this season does not help its main deficiency of depth, even if it nets better players. It is also further disruptive to the chemistry of a team that made it to the final four two years in a row than is adding free agent talent.

    That leaves us with targeting restricted free agents.

    This is a rare practice because of what it costs. Not only does the original team have the right to match an offer, but if it declines, the new one not only has to pony up money but draft picks determined by the amount the new team offers.

    Under $1,034,250 is no compensation. From that amount to $1,567,043 costs a third-round pick.

    Players earning that little are only worth signing if they have promise because many free agents are out there earning in that range that do not cause the loss of picks. However, it may make sense to make an offer if a team wants to drive up the payroll of a competitor.

    This was certainly part of the strategy the Sharks employed in making an offer to Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Chicago Blackhawks had to commit limited cap room to keep him, and that may be the reason they lost Antti Niemi to San Jose without compensatory picks.

    But if you want to keep a player, the key is to pick one who is going to be with the team longer than the draft picks they cost likely would. Then the offer must be enough to make the compensation tempting.

    This usually means going after players with lower price tags, especially for the Sharks to avoid giving up multiple picks they are already lacking.

    The cost for a player signed for more than $1,567,043 up to $3,134,088 is a second-round pick. This is often not enough to tempt a team into letting a player go, and the amount of the contract is usually affordable.

    It is at the next level (up to $4,701,131) that the most strategic offers are made, like the one San Jose put on the table for Hjalmarsson. Do you want to pay the contract, or would it just be easier to get the first- and third-round picks for letting him go?

    Players making more than that are offered picks in the first three rounds or better. Only a fool (read: Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, though the figures were smaller at the time) cripples his team's future this way for a player the other team will give up.

    Thus, the following list does not include Steven Stamkos. He could cost over $6,268,175 plus two picks in the first round, one in the second and one in the third to pry him away.

    Everyone on this list is capable of filling the Sharks' holes and within their price range for both cap and draft limitations. The order is alphabetical by the team they played for last season, and the suggested offer for each is given...

Brad Marchand

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    Brad Marchand has what the Sharks lack.

    The team lost to Vancouver because it lacked speed, something Marchand has to burn. In fact, he has championship experience beating those Canucks.

    The loss of Scott Nichol also cost the Sharks a pest, and few are as good at that as Marchand. It also cost them a penalty killer, something Marchand is among the best in the league at doing.

    He provides more than just defensive prowess, however: Marchand has 42 points in 97 career games. He would immediately elevate the third line to one of the best in the league, giving the Sharks three potent lines again.

    San Jose would have to offer him quite a bit to catch him. The Bruins are likely waiting to see what the market value is on him before inking him to a new deal, but they have nearly $9 million they could use to re-sign Marchand and Shane Hnidy to ensure most of their championship team returns.

    Thus, any offer that did not come with a first- and third-round pick will not lure him away. He would not be offered as much as Joe Pavelski was in the same shoes last season, but considering the fit he is worth that same $4 million and the picks now that the cap has increased. He would be the team's best option on this list.

Brandon Sutter

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    With the Sharks and Sutter family history, Brandon Sutter would feel at home.

    His energy and skill would provide the third line some scoring punch. In under three full seasons (204 games) at the NHL level, he has 36 goals and 75 points.

    In 2009-10, he managed 21 goals in 72 games. However, a drop-off to 14 in 82 may make him affordable.

    San Jose should offer him a long-term deal for about $3 million per year. The Hurricanes have plenty of cap room and are likely to match it, but if they do not, he is worth the contract and a second-round pick.

Chris Campoli

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    Chris Campoli is a solid third-pair defenceman. He has a lot of experience, having played every season since the lockout.

    Over those 397 games, mostly on bad teams, he has scored 135 points. He has played in a minimum of 67 games and scored a minimum of 18 points in each of the last three seasons and been on the ice for all 18 of his teams' playoff games throughout his career.

    Campoli earned $1.4 million last season and certainly will be kept unless offered more. But he is worth losing a second-round pick for with a team whose GM has acknowledged its window will close soon.

    Perhaps a contract of about $2 million might make the Chicago Blackhawks consider taking the draft pick. If not, it may at least force them to commit some of their cap room to signing a guy who they need but who will not make them a contender.

Michael Frolik

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    Michael Frolik is another solid forward the Sharks could pursue. The 10th pick in the 2006 NHL draft ranks as the ninth-best player of that class.

    In three NHL seasons, he has missed only five total games and scored at least 38 points. He has impressive speed and would be wonderful on the Sharks' third line.

    It will take considerably more than the $1,275,000 he counted against the cap last season to get him away from the Hawks. They have about $7 million in cap space with their only needs being an upgrade at the backup goaltender position and to add another forward and defenceman.

    Considering his promise, the best way to get him on the roster is to make letting him go tempting. That means the Sharks would have to offer more than $3,130,488 and be willing to lose a first- and third-round pick. Then if the Hawks decided to keep him, they would have little left to upgrade the roster rather than merely fill it out.

Drew Doughty

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    There were complaints that Drew Doughty had an off year for the Los Angeles Kings. He only scored 40 points in 76 games in 2010-11.

    Sure, that was down from the 59 he scored in 82 games in 2009-10. But since being taken at the top of the 2008 draft, Doughty has missed just seven games, scoring 126 points in those 239 games.

    He is very good in his own end as well and will only get better. That is why the only sure way the Kings let him go is if they get the four first-round picks that come with an offer over $6,268,175.

    The Sharks do not even have that to offer, nor would they want to. But they could offer $5.5 million-plus (about all they could afford once they send someone down to make room), and he would be worth two first-round picks plus a second and third.

    That is probably not enough to pry him away from the Kings. They have almost $12 million in cap room and need only add another skater or two beyond Doughty to have a complete roster.

    But at least it would drive the price up of the top competitor the Sharks face in their division. They can do the same with the next possible move as well...

Brad Richardson

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    Brad Richardson has been a bargain player the last two years, making just $900,000. He will earn substantially more in 2011-12.

    He was a major reason the Kings' third line gave the Sharks so much trouble in their first-round playoff matchup. After scoring just 19 points in 68 games during the regular season, he had five in the six games between the teams.

    For his career, Richardson has 91 points in 316 games. A very solid defensive forward, he would add to the Sharks' third line on both ends.

    Because he will turn 27 during next season, the Kings might be willing to let him go for a second-round pick. Thus, while it will not help bankrupt the team to match, the Sharks have a chance to land a solid two-way former teammate to play alongside their most significant free agent signing, Michal Handzus, for under $2 million a year.

Josh Gorges

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    While a member of the San Jose Sharks, Josh Gorges was a capable sixth defenceman at best. He played well in his own end but was worthless on the attack, taking nearly 80 games to score his first NHL goal and managing just 10 points in 96 games.

    He was part of the trade deadline deal with the Montreal Canadiens that sent Craig Rivet to the Sharks in 2007 and played just seven games after that, registering no points.

    Since then, he has blossomed into a solid-skating fourth or fifth defenceman. He has contributed 49 points in the last 231 games.

    His pairing with the slow but gigantic Hal Gill was instrumental in the Canadiens' conference finals run. He scored just two points in those 19 games but blocked shots well and clamped down on some of the best scoring teams in the league (Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).

    The upside is he should be comfortable playing in San Jose again. The downside is that he has only one season with more than 62 games played in the NHL, missing 46 games last season and 97 over the last four.

    Of course, this may mean the Habs (who have the cap space) are willing to part with him for a mere second-round pick. Since he fits the Sharks' needs, he is worth an offer over $1,567,043, only a slight increase over the $1.3 million he made last season.

Kyle Turris

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have over $18 million in cap space and need only get three more skaters to fill out their roster. So why try to get anyone from them?

    Because they will not spend to the cap. In fact, they are in such financial ruin that they will likely have trouble affording the $2.5 million more to reach the league-mandated amount every team must spend.

    (One reason the NHL delayed realignment for a season despite the move of Atlanta to Winnipeg is they know it makes no sense to move teams now when Phoenix will also lose its team next season.)

    Thus, any player worth anywhere close to $2 million should be given an offer. Phoenix would likely take the second-round pick over using most of its remaining budget on one player. Whether they sign the player or lose him, a division rival will be more limited next season.

    Turris is valuable because he is a capable scorer, with 25 points in 65 games last season (and 20 in 63 in 2008-09) and three more against Detroit despite the Coyotes being swept out of the first round. He would be another welcome addition to the Sharks' third line.

Teddy Purcell

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    Teddy Purcell is one of those players for whom a value is uncertain. This makes tendering an offer sheet to him high risk, high reward.

    In his first three seasons, he played just 110 games because he was a borderline player. He had just seven goals and 11 assists and was not in many games in which his team was in contention for a playoff spot.

    Last season, he scored 51 points in 81 games and 17 more in 18 playoff games. He will be 26 next season, so it is not like he has been on a steady rise as a player—i.e. it seems possible last year could still be at least somewhat of an anomaly.

    If the Sharks believe in him, they will need to offer over $3,134,088 so the Lightning want to take the first- and third-round picks rather than commit to a potential one-year wonder. That is about half their remaining cap room after they sign Steven Stamkos, and they would still need to sign a top-six or -seven forward.

Jannik Hansen

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    The only team the San Jose Sharks were not better than in the Western Conference was the Vancouver Canucks. One of the reasons they won just one game in that series was they had less speed.

    Jannik Hansen played on the third line that the Sharks struggled to keep up with. He scored 29 points in 2010-11 and had nine more in 25 playoff games.

    In 189 career games, Hansen has 65 points. At 25, he would be a brilliant addition to the Sharks' third line and may be worth both the money and the first- and third-round picks it takes to give a good offer.

    However, the better move would be to offer him $3 million, which would only come with a second-round pick—too little compensation for losing him. Thus the Canucks would be forced to spend their remaining cap money on the one player they can still afford and could not make any more improvements to their roster.