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

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NHL Free Agents 2011: Top 10 RFAs the San Jose Sharks Can Target
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
San Jose attempted to sign Niklas Hjalmarsson away from Chicago last off-season

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...

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