The San Jose Sharks have an astounding 26 NHL and minor league players who are not under contract for 2009-10. Nine of those players were regulars in the lineup, appearing in 35 or more games in the regular season or in the majority the of postseason; seven more were active for between two and 19 games of the team's 88 games that counted.
That spells a tough summer of decisions for General Manager Doug Wilson. Those decisions are vital against the backdrop of the clash between past playoff failures and future playoff success.
That is why I am out to help Wilson with this series inspired by the the hit single from The Clash, Should I Stay or Should I Go? I start with the team's 12 restricted free agents.
In order to really analyze what the team should do, it is important to understand the rules governing restricted free agents.
Players can be offered "tenders," legitimate contracts that a team must pay the player if they are not offered more by another team. Those tenders also determine what a team's compensation will be if a player is signed away from them. Teams also have the right to match any offer and keep the player.
The salary cap could adjust a bit in 2009-10 in either direction from last season. However, we will use last season's figures to examine what compensation teams receive if they lose a player, based on different tender levels offered by that team...
- $863,156 or below: None
- Over $863,156 to $1,307,812: Third-round choice
- Over $1,307,812 to $2,615,625: Second-round choice
- Over $2,615,625 to $3,923,437: First-round and third-round choice
- Over $3,923,437 to $5,231,249: First-round, second-round and third-round choice
- Over $5,231,249 to $6,539,062: Two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice
- Over $6,539,062: Four first-round choices
Thus, if a team has any desire to keep a player, they need to offer that player at least $863,157. If they want to make sure, a contract near $4 million means only the Edmonton Oilers will be in the market for that player...
Some restricted free agents are also eligible for arbitration. However, I will be starting with those who are not; the rules for arbitration will be explained in my next article addressing the players who are eligible for it.
C Torrey Mitchell (5'11", 190 lbs., 24 years old)
Mitchell broke his leg in the first week of camp and was out the entire season, as well as the first two Sharks losses in the playoffs. In the four games he played against Anaheim, he had no points and was -1, but his speed was a factor in the Sharks splitting the next four games.
In 2007-08, his rookie season, Mitchell played in all 82 games, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists and finishing -3 with 50 PIM while centering the checking line. He also was a key penalty killer, scoring two short-handed goals. In the playoffs, he finished -2 with 10 PIM while playing in all 13 games, recording a goal and two assists.
Coming off injury, Wilson could gamble that there will not be much interest in a one-year player. But Mitchell is a definite keeper, and the team needs to make the price high.
If he tenders a small contract and counts on matching another team's offer, he risks that team pricing him right out of contention. But by offering a contract that requires a team to also give up a second round pick to sign him away, it seems unlikely that even Kevin Lowe will pony up for Torrey both that and a load of money.
Even if some team does try to beat the Sharks' offer, unless it is $2 million-plus, Wilson should and will match the offer.
Expected tender: $1,307,813; Mitchell stays.
G Thomas Greiss (6'1", 210 lbs., 23 years old)
Greiss did not appear in an NHL game last season, but he was in uniform while Evgeni Nabokov spent over two weeks fighting through a knee—er, lower body—injury. He was also instrumental in the playoff success of the Worcester Sharks, finishing 6-6 with a 2.43 GAA and .912 save pct.
Greiss appeared in three NHL games (one in relief) in 2007-08, going 0-1-1 with a 3.26 GAA and .860 save pct. Considering the team has not felt comfortable putting him in games even when Nabokov was playing in 77 games in 2007-08 or when Boucher had to play twice in two back-to-back situations last fall, he is clearly not ready for the NHL.
That may be why the team has expressed interest in Jonas Gustavsson, the top professional goaltender not under an NHL contract. The 24-year-old Swede led Farjestad to a Swedish championship last season. In the regular season he posted a 1.96 GAA and .932 save pct. Perhaps more to the point for a team starved for playoff success, he played his best in the postseason, posting a 1.03 GAA and .961 save pct.
That being said, Greiss is young and has been effective at the minor league level. There is no certainty that the team will be able to resign Boucher (who may be looking for a chance to start) or that either he or Nabokov will be in the team's long-term plans considering they are both past 30.
Even with goalie prospects like Taylor Dakers (see below), Harri Sateri, and Tyson Sexsmith in in the system, having one prospect with NHL experience, however minimal, is worth a tender that forces a team to give up a pick. I doubt any team is starved enough for a goaltender to engage in a bidding war for the former third-round pick.
Expected tender: $863,157 (just about $125,000 more than last season); Greiss stays.
C Thomas Joseph Fox (6'1", 200 lbs., 25)
T.J. was signed as a free agent just over two years ago, and played in 71 games for the Worcester Sharks the next season, recording 12 goals, 12 assists, and a +2 rating with just 33 PIM. Last year he regressed slightly, scoring seven goals and earning 11 assists, a -2 rating, and 15 PIM in 79 games; however, in nine playoff games, he had three goals, 4 PIM, and an even rating.
The Sharks have such a plethora of forwards it is hard to imagine them needing Fox. However, as he made $850,000 last season, it is also not unrealistic for the team to feel he is worth a tiny raise in order to ensure that compensation would be required if he is taken, and it is unimaginable that a team would want to lose a pick and pay him more than his tender.
Expected tender: $863,157...Fox stays.
G Taylor Dakers (6'1", 175 lbs., 22)
A fifth-round choice in 2005, Dakers has yet to make much of an impression in Worcester in two seasons as their back-up. He has appeared in 33 games and is 18-20-1; in neither season has he achieved a .900 save pct. or appeared in a playoff game.
However, he did improve in all three major stats—record, GAA, and save pct.—in 2008-09 (11-9, 2.85, .897). Since he is young, it is not unreasonable to expect the team may offer him more than he made last season ($600,000) to try to hold on to him, especially if they lose Boucher or Greiss.
On the other hand, with the depth the Sharks have at the position, it is not unreasonable to think they will let him go. It is doubtful, though, that he will receive much interest outside of the Sharks; if he does, they will not likely match any offer.
Expected tender: $600,000...Dakers stays.
Next week: Restricted Free Agents who are arbitration-eligible and did not have a significant impact on the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09.