San Jose Sharks Complete Busy Week Re-signing Free Agents

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJune 28, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 23:  (2nd L) Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his second period goal with teammates Joe Pavelski #8, Rob Blake #4 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 23, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

From Thursday through Saturday of last week, the San Jose Sharks took major steps toward shaping their future. First of all, there was the NHL Draft; for a look at that, see Shark-Infested Blogger .

But there was significant free-agent news, as well. (For a look at play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn's insights on that topic, see my interview with him.) Unrestricted free agents Patrick Marleau, Niklas Wallin, and Scotty Nichol were re-signed, as was restricted free agent Joe Pavelski; let us examine each contract...

Starting with the face of the franchise, Patrick Marleau, I predicted he and the team would get a deal done with a hometown discount of $6.5 million. According to HockeyBuzz.com , it was four years at $6.9 million per year.

This clearly represents a hometown discount given it is less than a 10 percent raise on an old contract coming off a career year; he is only the team's fourth-highest paid player. With Marleau being the Sharks only player that could score against Annti Niemi and the Chicago Blackhawks, he was an almost must-sign for this amount.

Scotty Nichol made $750,000 last season and got a $10,000 (1.3 percent) raise according to HockeyBuzz. This is a steal when you consider that Nichol led the league in faceoffs (over 60 percent!) in 2009-10, was an invaluable penalty-killer and energy guy, and managed a career high in both assists (15) and points (19) on the fourth line.

Niclas Wallin was under contract for $1.7 million in 2009-10, and got a $2.5 million contract last week. That represents a whopping 47 percent raise, and is absolute nonsense.

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Wallin may not be a scorer, but he managed just two assists and no goals in 23 games with the Sharks and none in six playoff games. (He had five more assists and no goals in 47 games in Carolina before being traded.) Notice that says six playoff games; the Sharks played 15, so Wallin was only good enough to be active for 40 percent of the playoffs.

Oh, and he finished minus-three in those six games, and minus-five (even with the Sharks) in 70 regular season games.

Sure, defensive players are often put in for faceoffs in their own end and accumulate more minuses because of it. But Wallin had more blown assignments and turnovers than good defensive ones in the playoffs, and that was why he did not play much.

To pay him the same money that Douglas Murray (much better on both ends than Wallin) is making is absurd: There is a reason Murray was chosen over Wallin for a loaded Team Sweden blue line. Here would have been some better options for the team on the blue line:

1. Re-sign Jay Leach for the league minimum of $600,000 and likely given up only a few more goals over the entire season. This would have allowed them to promote Nick Petrecki and his $1.125 million contract and re-sign Derek Joslin (who would probably also get the minimum), and had three active defencemen for less money.

2. Offer a little over this money to restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson and only had to surrender a second-round pick while getting a younger, more mobile, more skilled player on both ends if Chicago did not match it. If they do match it, it forces the team in your way that is up against the cap to spend more money. (Hjalmarsson will likely make about $3 million, still only worth a second-round pick.)

3. Put that money plus maybe another half-million toward signing Annti Niemi to push Chicago to commit more funds there, or get your young No. 1 goaltender for the forseeable future. While Niemi would not be an upgrade over Evgeni Nabokov (he gave up three or more goals 11 times in 18 games that were not against the consistently inept Sharks playoff offence; in those series, he had a lower save percentage than Nabby), he clearly provides the team with a goalie capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

4. Use it along with about $1.5 million more to upgrade the blue line by signing Jordan Leopold (offence) or Anton Volchenkov (defence).

5. Go after a host of other defencemen who will probably get similar contracts, like Mike Mottau, Derek Morris, and Nick Boynton, or some better ones who will make about what Hjalmarsson will: Braydon Cobourn, Carlo Colaiacovo, Dan Hamhuis, or Kurtis Foster.

Instead, the team is saddled with its next Kyle McLaren contract. In fact, we could have signed him for the league minimum and he might have been as good...is there any more that needs to be said to explain how bad this contract is?

Finally, we address what is likely the single most important free-agent signing: The Big Pavelski. Joe had almost no points after the first eight playoff games, but still finished as the team's top scorer and only one to average a point a game (17 points in 15 games). He had 51 points in 67 regular season games.

Moreover, he was a cornerstone of the power play and penalty kill because his hockey IQ is through the roof, and he was also among the league leaders in faceoffs. Thus, even though his reported four-year, $16 million contract represents about the same whopping raise Wallin received, I agree with Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle, who predicted he would have commanded more like $5 million per year on the open market.

Thus, three of general manager Doug Wilson's four moves were good ones: Two were steals and another was worth the money. I agreed with his move not to re-sign Nabby given the trend of low-priced goalies that perform well. That is a thumbs-up on four of his five major decisions so far.

Wilson is much better at putting a value on talent than I am, and in most cases I would bet on him. He is also in the unenviable position of trying to keep a team that was successful together, with 12 significant free agents. Returning this team to last year's level would be a major accomplishment.

But I am so sure that re-signing Wallin was an unbelievably irresponsible move that will keep the Sharks from re-signing at least one much more key player that unless the team returns to the conference finals, I will be looking at this move as the reason they did not.


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