NHL Free Agency: 5 Bargain Blue-Liners San Jose Sharks Should Have Signed

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJuly 23, 2012

NHL Free Agency: 5 Bargain Blue-Liners San Jose Sharks Should Have Signed

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    Is it the summer of 2011 all over again? Or are we in a completely overrated, campy Bill Murray film?

    No, the San Jose Sharks just keep playing the same tune. They have upgraded their blue line in late June and early August, but lost forward depth.

    How did that work out for them last year? They dropped from the second to the seventh seed, winning just one playoff game compared to the previous season's nine.

    For a second consecutive summer, they are going into August lacking veteran blue-line depth. Last season they appeared to lock that up with the late signing of Colin White to a one-year, $1 million deal.

    He turned out to be a disaster—the only Shark to play over 10 games and rate below zero in goals versus threshold at Hockey Prospectus. This measures the team's goal differential on a player's shifts vs. the average replacement player.

    Yes, he rated worse than the average defenceman sitting in the press box watching his team as a healthy scratch. San Jose could have welcomed back Scott Hannan for the same money and gotten much more—he rated nearly 400 players better for the same money.

    The Sharks are saving cap room for an upgrade at forward, whether via trade or free agency. But they need a cheap insurance policy on their blue line.

    It is almost unheard of for a team to play only seven defencemen in an entire season. Not once in any of the 14 seasons for which Sharks stats are available for on the team site.

    In Todd McLellan's four seasons, the Sharks have used between eight and 10 defenceman throughout the season. Between 12 and 48 total games were played by those not ranking among the top-seven Sharks defencemen in that category.

    The seventh player will get a lot of playing time. But the eighth will not and therefore cannot be a young player the team is hoping to develop.

    San Jose needs a veteran willing to accept a substitute role. Such a player would sign a budget-friendly contract and provide a known quantity through dozens of games, not compete for playing time when the unit is healthy.

    There have been players signed to such contracts by a new team that fit the Sharks' needs (check this link to see five more still out there). Some of them signed two-way contracts, meaning they could have been freely sent to the minors.

    It is hard to imagine the Sharks could not have gotten most of them for similar money to their contracts elsewhere. Here are the five I would have gone after and what they signed elsewhere.

Bruno Gervais

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    Bruno Gervais is the only player on this list to have signed a one-way contract. He is still listed as one of the top-five options for the San Jose Sharks because he is the best player on this list.

    The veteran of over 300 games scored 13 points in 50 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. His GVT ranking was higher than at least eight skaters the Sharks were dressing nightly.

    At just 27, his best days are ahead of him. Yet he signed for just $1.65 million over two years—less than the Sharks paid either Jim Vandermeer or Colin White last year.

Garnet Exelby

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    The last game Garnet Exelby played in the NHL was with a team that no longer exists, the Atlanta Thrashers.

    It might seem to make him an odd choice to sign someone who did not play in the NHL last season. He may have even peaked as a player since he is now 30.

    However, that is why he only warranted a one-year, $600,000 two-way contract. He is also far from washed up, but carries the experience of 50 points in 408 games.

Derek Joslin

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    Derek Joslin is a familiar player to fans, players and management of the San Jose Sharks. A few years ago, he was traded because the team could no longer option him to the minors.

    That would no longer be a problem. The only way he will be optioned down is if he was not one of the team's top eight defencemen, in which case exposing him to re-entry waivers would not be a concern of San Jose.

    However, he has a two-way contract paying him just $700,000. That is a low price for a player that knows your system and many of his teammates, even if he had just four points in 44 games last season.

    At just 27, he still has room for growth while having the experience of 114 NHL games (16 points).

Aaron Johnson

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    Aaron Johnson had 16 points in just 56 games last season. His GVT ranking just nine spots lower than Bruno Gervais shows he is already worthy of the third pair.

    He also has the experience, with 62 points in 281 games for his NHL career. But at 29 years old, there is no reason to expect his performance to decline this season.

    His one-year, two-way contract would have represented virtually no risk for San Jose.

    If Taylor Doherty or someone else is ready to play in the NHL and leaps past him, he can be sent down to the minors for little over $100,000. If he plays well enough to be an asset in the NHL, he still makes only $650,000.

Marc-Andre Gragnani

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    Marc-Andre Gragnani would have been my top choice to fill the only remaining need of the San Jose Sharks' blue line. The potential of growth coupled with already capable play make up for his relative lack of experience.

    At just 25 years old, he is the same age as most of the Sharks' other depth defencemen unlikely to make any impact in the NHL. Except we already know Gragnani can make that impact, scoring 15 points in 58 games last season.

    For a team more lacking in youth than experience, Gragnani is a perfect fit for the eighth defenceman position. He can fill in for a couple dozen games and save the team cap space while he develops the rest of the time in the minors thanks to his two-way, $800,000 contract for next season.

    After languishing with just 15 games over his first four seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, it is possible he chose the Carolina Hurricanes to help him play more this season. However, if he can play 14 games for the Vancouver Canucks (coming over as part of the deal that sent Cody Hodgson to Western New York), he should be able to compete for playing time with Jason Demers, Douglas Murray and Justin Braun.