San Jose Sharks: 12 Moves They Should've Made in Free Agency
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There is perhaps no team that has had as busy an offseason as the San Jose Sharks.
Three trades have bolstered the team's blueline with less loss to the deeper forward unit. While current players, prospects and draft picks were lost this summer, the team was able to make free agent pickups of complimentary pieces, that leave it at least a little better on paper than the team that lost in the Western Conference Finals last season.
But this team is still not clearly better than the Vancouver Canucks they lost to, nor the Boston Bruins who won the Cup. With moves the Washington Capitals made, this could very well be the year they put together a playoff run. The Pittsburgh Penguins are still the team to beat in the NHL if they are healthy.
In fact, the Los Angeles Kings improved more than the Sharks did. While they were not as good last season, they were only two overtime goals away from beating San Jose in the opening round with key players hurt.
Their more considerable improvements may well have closed that gap.
This is not to say this Sharks team cannot win the Cup. But the margin is too narrow to leave any stone unturned, and the Sharks could have done more.
Taking a look around the league, here are a dozen free agents whose contracts were within the Sharks cap space...
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Brian Boucher is the only goalie on this list because he is the only one better or cheaper than either of the Sharks two goalies who might have chosen to play in San Jose.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tomas Vokoun and Jose Theodore were signed for contracts lower than either Sharks goalie makes. But they took the offers they got because they have a chance to start they would not have gotten in San Jose.
But why should the Sharks have signed Boucher when he was unable to do the job with a great group of experienced skaters ahead of him in last year's playoffs?
Because he would not have been the Sharks starter. His experience and capability is more than enough for a backup.
Why would the Sharks want to replace a backup goalie who was good enough to originally be signed to start for the team in the summer of 2010?
Because Antero Niittymaki has proven to be a less-than-stellar starter his entire career. He has only had one season in which he played more than 32 games and had a .900 save percentage.
Meanwhile, he is making $2 million and Boucher, a better goalie, is making $900,000. The Sharks could have lopped $1.1 million off the cap by sending Niittymaki down and upgraded in net.
Because of his years of service, Niitty would have had to clear waivers to be off the salary cap. If Niitty did not clear waivers, then someone else could pay him and he is off the Sharks hands. If he did, the team has enough money to pay someone to be in the minors and know they have a goalie in the case of emergency.
Any player who frees up cap space and makes the Sharks better is a move they should have made.
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Ian White was signed by the Detroit Red Wings for just $5.5 million over two years. He is young enough that he is still developing, but was essential in the Sharks run to and through the playoffs last season.
Without White in the lineup, San Jose was 32-21-6 (.593) and lost their only playoff game 4-0. With him, they were 16-4-3 (.783) and went 9-8 in the playoffs.
But the small, fleet-skating White had that impact on the offensive side of the ice, and the Sharks needed defence after the trade for Brent Burns, right?
Wrong. Playing the third-most minutes on the blueline in the playoffs, White had the second-most hits and led the team in blocked shots. The Wings saw that he could be physical and play with grit, and mentioned that in deciding to sign him.
Had the Sharks matched the Wings offer, they would have had no need to sign Colin White--a good player, but nowhere near the ability of Ian. Instead of merely having one of the top five bluelines in the league, they would have the best. And they would still have $1.5 million in cap space.
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Speaking of shot-blocking, puck-moving masters, Roman Hamrlik was signed by the Washington Capitals for $3.5 million over each of the next two seasons.
Sure, that would have left the Sharks with just $700,000 in cap space (again knowing there would have been no reason to sign Colin White). But there was perhaps no better defenceman on the market.
The 37-year old was still able to handle the load of a second defenceman last season, and would only have been asked to be the Sharks third. He is arguably the best shot-blocker in the league and is a dynamo on the power play.
Not only would this move have given the Sharks the best blueline in the league, but one that compares with any in most of our lifetimes. That talent can carry a team to a Stanley Cup like it did the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
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When the Edmonton Oilers signed Sheldon Souray to a $5 million per year contract, they did so because he was one of the better two-way defencemen in the league.
He did not live up to the contract. The Oilers buried him in the minors to avoid his salary counting against the cap until it expired this July 1.
Dallas rolled the dice on him with a one-year, $1.65 million contract. If Souray, only 34, recaptures some of the play that got him viewed as elite, this signing could prove to be the steal of the offseason.
Even if not, chances are he will play well enough to stay in the lineup. Since the Sharks sixth defenceman will be making $1 million, paying an extra $650,000 would seem worth the hope he was more.
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The Vancouver Canucks re-signed Sami Salo to a two-year, $4 million contract. Had the Sharks paid just a little more for him, they could have taken a player from the only team ahead of them last season.
The 36-year old Salo is still a tremendous asset on the power play, but is also a pretty good shot-blocker. He has begun to struggle with injuries, but the Sharks have the depth to account for losing him in the lineup from time-to-time.
Meanwhile, his experience and skill would have improved the team's playoff chances over the like of Colin White and Jim Vandermeer if for no other reason than he is a better skater than either. After all, it was the Sharks lack of speed was what was exposed against Vancouver.
Out-bidding them by 10 percent for his service would still have left the Sharks with $2 million in cap room (again assuming Colin White, the last player on the unit signed, would not have been) and brought them closer to their competitors.
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The Colorado Avalanche grossly overpaid for Scott Hannan's services in 2007. Consider it another lesson the league learned: Hannan is not the level of shut-down defender or two-way player to warrant $4 million per year.
Sharks fans could have told the Avs that, but why stop another team in the conference from throwing their money away?
However, Calgary signed Hannan for $1 million. Still in his early 30s, Hannan has plenty left in the tank, and his defensive prowess helped anchor the Capitals for the stretch run that gave them the division title they had to play catch-up for.
More to the point, Hannan would have been comfortable back in San Jose with players he is familiar with. He is more of a leader and a better skater than Jim Vandermeer, who the Sharks signed away from the Flames for the same price. He might even be better than Colin White, who appears to be wearing down...all for the same money.
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Jeff Woywitka is a pretty good skater who is not a liability offensively. At just 27, his game is continuing to develop.
He is being paid $650,000 to play in Montreal. That is a bargain for anyone capable of staying on the ice, and is probably better than the older, higher-paid Jim Vandermeer.
Considering he was signed later than any of the Sharks defencemen, it is more likely that San Jose would have made the choice of him over Colin White. Woywitka may or may not be better, but the savings of $350,000 might allow the Sharks to make a bigger move to improve their third line.
At the very least, they would have a younger player to remain on the unit for years to come than with White.
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As much as this slideshow has been dealing with the back end, the area in most need of improvement right now is forward.
The Sharks have a starting goalie who is at least top-10 in the league and a backup who is at least in the top half. But while they have always been best at forward, the trade of a top-six forward for a stud on the blueline has changed that paradigm.
The Sharks are one good third-liner away from having all three units elite (80th percentile). Maxime Talbot was a perfect match.
Talbot would have added grit the Sharks lack. He would have added the championship experience they lack among their forwards.
Moreover, at 27, he will be around a while. It is possible it would have taken more than the $9 million over five years (a $1.8 million cap hit) to bring him out of the state of Pennsylvania, but it is also possible that he would have taken a little less to play for a team that was not his current one's hated rival.
Even with a $2 million contract, he would have been worth it. His defence, style, and experience combined with the ability to score enough for a checking line would have been just what the Sharks needed.
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Much like Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm was an important late-season addition for the Washington Capitals in 2011.
Again like Hannan, the Sharks could have elected to bring back another player to the Bay Area. Instead, another ex-Shark signed to play in Canada.
Marco Sturm would have been in a familiar environment, but played with only Patrick Marleau from the current team. Still, the 33-year old would have provided the Sharks needed skating ability to make up the margin with the Vancouver Canucks, and given their third line a solid defender who would be its best scorer.
Instead, he has added to their ranks. At just $2.25 million, he is worth the money. In fact, had he even cost San Jose $2.5 million, he would have left them $1.5 million in cap space once James Sheppard was sent down to make room.
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Vinny Prospal is almost a point per game scorer with skill and speed. If not for a serious injury last season, he would have been paid as the top-six forward he is.
However, he already showed he had recovered enough to be an asset for the New York Rangers run to the playoffs at the end of last season. Yet the Columbus Blue Jackets signed him for just $1.75 million over the next season.
He would have provided the third line balance. He is also not the kind of liability on defence that would make them no longer an effective checking line.
That would have made him a steal for that money, and it is hard to see him requiring more to play for a title contender than one that will be lucky to make the playoffs. His diminished ice time compared to New York would have reduced the risk of injury, and left the Sharks $2.25 million when someone is moved to make room.
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Radek Dvorak is arguably still a top-six forward and a good skater the Sharks need. He is at least average defensively, and has the scoring touch the Sharks third line lacks.
He has playoff experience while still having enough left at 34-years old to expect his play to stay near the level that has enabled him to score more than a point per two games throughout his career.
Yet he was signed for just $1.5 million by the Dallas Stars. That is a steal, and he almost certainly would have signed for that much or less to play for a better team in San Jose.
Moreover, that would have left the Sharks about $2.5 million in cap room once they moved someone down to make room...still enough to sign another good third-line forward.
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Marty Reasoner is an adept penalty killing forward with some scoring ability.
Essentially, he is a poor man's John Madden. Perhaps that is who the Sharks would prefer, since he has won three Stanley Cups.
But Madden's signing becomes increasingly unlikely and his retirement increasingly likely as the season approaches. Since that possibility was known from the start, perhaps the Sharks should have just matched what the New York Islanders paid Reasoner: $2.7 million over two years.
Since the Sharks are a more desirable and contending hockey team, it seems unlikely he would have cost more. If he is looking for the culture of New York, that can be nearly duplicated in the Bay Area. And New York is perhaps the only place more expensive to live in.
At 34, there is no reason to believe he is going to become significantly less effective over the duration of that contract. However, he would have given the Sharks third line a little more grit and make it perhaps the best checking line in the NHL defensively.