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Perhaps San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson is still fighting off a mild delirium at the frustration and disappointment of being swept out of the 2010 Western Conference Finals. How else can one explain the confusing cacophony of offseason moves he has crafted to date?
The Sharks' offseason has been a roller coaster of highs and lows thus far. Things looked promising when the team decided to part ways with long-time goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. This marked a departure from the previous modus operandi of dog-like loyalty to long-time mainstays, as they finally parted ways with a true core member of the roster in efforts to pursue improvements in other areas.
The move cleared cap space to secure former captain Patrick Marleau and emerging forward Joe Pavelski for another four years each, prior to them becoming free agents. With Rob Blake retiring and Thomas Griess being the heir apparent in goal, the Sharks had two pressing priorities in free agency: goaltending depth and defense.
That is where things took an odd turn. The Sharks acted quickly to solve the vacancy in goal, signing former Olympic MVP Antero Niittymaki to share time in net with the developing Griess. With all factors considered, Nitty may well have been the best available option for the Sharks in net, but the final price tag confused many fans and analysts.
Nitty will earn $2 million per year for the next two seasons and with goaltenders like Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, and Patrick Lalime all signing for less elsewhere, many wonder why Nitty commanded such a price. Couple that with the consensus over-investment in Niclas Wallin, and Team Teal effectively excluded themselves from position to pursue an extra player in the $2.5 million range.
With those deals in place, the Sharks stood pat until Wednesday, when they announced the re-signing of Jay Leach. Leach was solid, but far from impressive in his time in teal last season, adding to the confusion of the developing offseason and suggesting that Doug Wilson was back to old tricks, offering contracts based more on nostalgia and loyalty than hockey merits.
Now, two days later, Doug Wilson has extended an offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. As he is a restricted free agent, Chicago can choose to match the Sharks' offer for Hjalmarsson or let him go for compensation.
Should Hjalmarsson move to San Jose, he would cost the Sharks $3.5 million per year over four years and a 2011 first- and third-round draft selection. In return, he would bring proven shutdown ability on the blue-line and a not-to-be-underestimated plus-nine rating throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I am very much a believer in looking forward, not back. With the fire sale Chicago has put on this offseason, I find it fairly likely Hjalmarsson will be a Shark next year. This would put three talented Swedes on the Sharks' blue line to team with the likes of Dan Boyle, Mark-Edouard Vlasic, and Jason Demers. Swedes play a very system-based style of hockey, which could go a long way toward creating a stronger front to shield Nitty and Griess in net.
Still, I think the Sharks have hampered themselves by over-investing. Hjalmarsson is an unquestionable asset who makes the blue line better, but Anton Stralman or Andreas Lilja could almost certainly have been had for less.
As Sharks fans, we are simply left to sit and hope there is method to the seeming madness. Could Doug Wilson be stoking the fire for the 2010 version of the Dany Heatley or even Joe Thornton trade? Time will tell.
Keep the faith!