2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Blue Line Comes into Focus

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2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Blue Line Comes into Focus
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Colin White signed for one year, $1 million with the Sharks

Three events helped the San Jose Sharks' blue-line situation come into focus.

One move put something in the past, one dealt with the present and one dealt with the future.

But the future came first. The San Jose Sharks solidified that their trade of forwards Devin Setoguchi and prospect Charlie Coyle for defenceman Brent Burns is a long-term strategy.

Burns signed a five-year extension beyond next season that gives him a $2.21 million raise from this season's $3.55 million contract, according to CapGeek.com. As one of the 20 best players on the blue line in the league, he would likely have earned more than that on the free market next season. 

The contract will keep him around until he is 32 years old. He has said he already loves the atmosphere in San Jose and now can focus on his game rather than contract issues for the next six seasons.

Then came the past.

Last season, the Sharks got Antti Niemi for a bargain when his arbitration award was more than Chicago could pay. It appeared they may have been saving room to see if someone became available through that route this offseason.

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San Jose had about $5 million in cap space and easily could have moved almost $2 million off their roster to sign an elite restricted free agent. They just had to wait until the market was set.

First came forward Steven Stamkos, and then Wednesday defenceman Shea Weber matched his $7.5 million contract, according to NHL.com. This helped to set the market for the likes of Luke Schenn, Drew Doughty and Zach Bagosian.

While none would make what Weber did, none are as good, either. Considering that signing them would also mean giving up at least a first- and third-round pick for a player who is less affordable and less talented than Burns, they don't seem like worthwhile moves anymore.

Doughty might still have made sense to drive his price up for rival Los Angeles. However, they cannot tender him a contract because the Kings went to arbitration.

Chances are pretty good that Doughty will be offered nearly every spare penny the Sharks have in cap space but be kept by L.A., so San Jose decided to address the present with one more signing.

Colin White is a genuine fifth defenceman who had his contract bought out by the New Jersey Devils earlier in the week. Because he is collecting some salary from that deal, he was willing to come down to a one-year, $1 million deal (also according to CapGeek).

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In other words, the Sharks got a leader and two-time Stanley Cup winning stay-at-home defenceman who is a better skater than Jim Vandermeer. He is just as physical and no worse offensively, making him a clear upgrade for the same money.

This gives the Sharks two top-20 players, two top-100 players and two top-150 players on the blue line. They also have two defencemen qualified to be dressed in case of injury, one of whom can also play forward.

This puts the Sharks blue line in the top quarter of the league and allows Justin Braun to continue to develop in the minors. It leaves the team with over $4 million (twice as much as needed) to sign a third-line forward.

Such a player could give the Sharks two above-average checking lines to back-up two elite scoring lines. Either John McCarthy, Ben Guite, Frazer McLaren, Brad Mashinter or Tommy Wingels would be called up as another forward if no other one was signed.

The Sharks would have 18 forwards who would be dressed on multiple teams—the best depth in the league. That puts the forwards in the top 20 percent (sixth) in the league.

They also have Mike Moore, Matt Pelech, Taylor Doherty and Nick Petrecki as potential players on the San Jose blue line, so one or two of them should be ready for at least a very minimal role.

That is a dozen players who might be capable of playing half as many spots on the unit dressed nightly.

The Sharks also have a third and maybe fourth goaltender available as an emergency backup. With a top-10 starter and a better-than-average backup goalie, this puts the Sharks' goaltending in the top quarter of the league as well.

That is half the players at the forward position and twice the number on the goal line and blue line. One happens to be the same player, but all three units would be in the top quarter of the league.

In other words, San Jose is one $2 million forward or better away from being as good as anyone in the Western Conference. Stay tuned for who that last signing should and will be.

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