2011 NHL Free Agency: 5 Changes San Jose Sharks Should Make This Offseason
While the upcoming offseason may not provide the pyrotechnics following the 2009 disaster or the huge changes from 2010, it’ll be plenty interesting.
With the number of unrestricted free agents and a few key RFA's, Doug Wilson certainly has his work cut out for him.
The top-heavy nature of the Sharks roster obviously makes things as difficult as ever, with large commitments to Heatley, Thornton and Boyle.
The 2010-11 playoffs and where the Sharks finish up their season will of course affect the offseason outlook, mostly revolving around the six depth skaters for San Jose.
Although many of these players are in their first year with San Jose, their status will play a huge role in the team’s depth and bottom six skaters moving forward.
The long overdue need for the Sharks on the blueline also figures to undergo some turnover, with three key veterans becoming UFA’s at the end of the year.
All salary cap and contract specifications were used from www.capgeek.com.
Clearing the Way
With some hefty salaries on the payroll putting San Jose near the top of the salary cap limit, the Sharks need to trim some of the cap fat in order to get where they want to go.
Niclas Wallin:The 35-year-old bottom pairing defenseman hasn't exactly been a fan favorite with some untimely mistakes and lacking offensive upside. While his championship experience and steady play in the backend are valuable, there are cheaper, younger, and faster alternatives available.
Wallin is just not worth $2.65 million a year, he may be on another team not saddled with the top-heavy contracts that the Sharks are however.
Kent Huskins: The 31-year-old Kent Huskins is also another steady bottom pairing defenseman whose forte is steady defensive veteran play. With a big frame (at 6'4") and championship experience, Huskins is valuable to the San Jose Sharks.
However in a league becoming more and more predicated on speed and youth, the slow skating, plodding style of defense Huskins plays is going the way of the dodo.
Antero Niittymaki: it almost seems like a lifetime ago when Sharks fans were saying goodbye to long time favorite Evgeni Nabokov and welcoming Niittymaki as his heir. A Niemi contract and two pulled groins later, and Antero seems to be the odd man out in the rotation.
Fair or not such is life in the salary cap restricted NHL, and with youngsters Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock in the wings the Sharks must shed Antero’s salary ($2 mil a year)
With these three moves, the Sharks will have saved $6.35 million against the cap providing salary cap flexibility on a roster with many high dollar commitments.
Improving team speed, defensive coverage and penalty killing will be much easier with this cap room.
Bring Back Ian White?
Ian White—$2.9 million—it's been a long road this season for Ian White, playing for his third team in just one season and his fifth in a calendar year.
In just 23 regular-season games with the San Jose Sharks, White has provided a huge boost to the San Jose blueline and the power play.
He’s helped a struggling breakout and brought offensive pop to the backend of a otherwise lackluster second power play unit. His arrival to the team marked a crucial period in the season, as White gave the Sharks depth and mobility to a defensive corps lacking those very things.
At just 26 years of age, White is coming into the prime of his career and could blossom paired with the right guy in San Jose. Problem is, he’s had to scuttle with the likes of Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins on the third pairing and hasn’t exactly made a huge impact.
White struggled in the early going but that’s to be expected transitioning to a new team with a new partner.
Defenseman need that chemistry and trust to co-exist and be effective and that takes time, something the Sharks haven’t had enough of with White in teal.
He’s shown flashes of the upside and impact he’s capable of on many nights, but without a strong playoff performance it will be a tough call for Doug Wilson.
Having said that, White is currently making $3 million a year which may put him out of San Jose's budget for the third pairing defenseman. To complicate matters, he’s tallied just one power play goal late in the season, and that’s a high price tag for what he’s brought to the table.
Although possible suitors for Ian White services may be slim, San Jose needs his contributions and his steady veteran play to complete their depth.
Question is, will they be able to afford him with a hometown discount? Or will he take his services to his sixth team in a calendar year?
Re-Sign Devin Setoguchi
Following a one-year show me contract of just $1.8 million, Setoguchi has proven his critics wrong with a superb second half in 2010-11.
While many Shark fans lament or complain about Doug Wilson’s patience when it comes to player movement, it paid off in spades in the months before the deadline for the Sharks. Wilson ignored the trade clamor surrounding Devin, who carried a minus-11 and had just three points on the year at that time.
It could have been a huge sell-low mistake for the franchise, but instead became one of the main storylines this year for San Jose.
Turning the corner in the New Year, Devin started to put things together and exploded in February alongside Thornton and Couture.
Including the hat trick performance against Colorado, Setoguchi was one of the best Sharks in Febraury and is looking to make his mark in the postseason.
The coaching staff is trusting young Setoguchi more and more in the crucial moments, especially late this season on the penalty kill where he spent time taking draws on the first unit.
With Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on that unit, it’s more than an interesting detail that shows the coaches trust level with Setoguchi.
Although he’s still prone to lapses in scoring, the Sharks young sniper makes up for his scoresheet lulls by finishing his checks and skating hard. He's obviously due for a raise, but how much is the question?
Losing Setoguchi would be a foolish mistake on a roster not known for team speed and tenacity, and his young age makes him a huge part of the Sharks future.
Address the Bottom Six UFA’s
Kyle Wellwood: Wellwood's been an instrumental part of the San Jose third line, and has displayed remarkable chemistry alongside Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski. His crafty puck handling ability and terrific hockey sense gives the Sharks a unique skill set amongst their bottom six forwards.
Kyle contributed immediately following his waiver wire voyage, but like many on this panel will need to answer the postseason question to quantify his value for San Jose. At just $650,000, Wellwood is a great value but not likely to continue playing at that price especially with his effectiveness late this season.
Scott Nichol: At a relatively affordable cap hit of just $760,000, Nichol does a lot of things very well for San Jose. He’s a scrappy player, good defensively, annoying in the corners and plays a big role on the penalty kill.
He’s consistently one of the best faceoff men in the NHL, a fact that buoyed the Sharks after losing Malhotra a year ago. Having said all that though, his injury and the added depth for the Sharks have diminished his role on the PK.
He’s also prone to taking the bad penalty and much of his play can be replaced by Ben Eager, who has the size that Nichol lacks to be effective up front.
Ben Eager: The results haven’t always been there for Eager, but how can you not love his game and what he brings to San Jose? He can contribute offensively but that’s not where his bread is buttered, where his speed and willingness to dish out big hits shine.
He’s simply a wrecking ball on ice but might need a little more restraint, as he’s taken a few bad penalties and hit his own teammates from time to time.
He’s a bigger faster version of Scott Nichol, and a nastier, meaner, and more effective version of Jamal Mayers. He’s a must for Doug Wilson to resign in order for San Jose to retain their depth, and at 965,000 is a big piece of the Sharks puzzle.
Jamal Mayers: He plays a role for the team on the penalty kill this year, but given the Sharks little else at any other time during the game. Mayers hasn’t quite been the gritty player Doug Wilson envisioned but he’s done a good job filling specific roles that the coaching staff asks of him
With the additional depth to this team however, Mayers is the odd man out despite his low $600,000 cap hit and may result in the team parting ways with him.
Benn Ferriero: He's playing well in Worcester, averaging nearly a point a game this season and has performed admirably in spot duty with the big club. He still projected as a top six forward based on his skill set but lacks the size to be an effective NHL forward on the Sharks fourth line.
The AHL is where he needs to stay until next season when an injury or trade makes a bottom six spot available, giving the youngster another chance to stick in the NHL.
Upgrade Top Pairing
We all know and understand how important Dan Boyle is the San Jose Sharks, and along with Marc-Edouard Vlasic these two are the cornerstones to San Jose's defense.
However, behind these two players San Jose has a myriad of defensive question marks with little in the way of answers.
Jason Demers has truly broken out this year, taking on more minutes and more defensive responsibility than anyone could have hoped for at the beginning of the year. The coaching staff continues to trust the youngster in crucial moments and situations, and Demers is answering the call.
But as good as he’s been, to expect Demers to jump up and overtake a spot on the top pair is just unrealistic. He’s developing nicely and doesn’t need any bumps on the road to possible NHL stardom.
Which brings me to our last and most unpopular option when discussing the options of upgrading the Sharks defense.
And that is, trading Douglas Murray for a top flight defenseman to complete San Jose's roster. Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, let me just preface all of this by saying I love Crankshafts game.
He's a bull in the china shop, and someone our opponents absolutely hate to encounter on the ice. His physical tools and Greek god-like stature make the opposing forecheck a much more difficult task.
Going into a seven-game series looking for war? Don't leave home without Douglas Murray.
Now having said all that, the Sharks should make the bold move and trade Douglas Murray with either picks/prospects for a top notch defenseman.
Murray has continued to develop alongside Boyle, but his lack of foot speed and penchant for trying for the big hit detract from his overall game. While he's definitely a huge part of the Sharks defense, he falls short of the top pair billing.
Keep in mind that we are aiming for the fences here, “B” level blueliners need not apply. By top-notch we mean a guy that can do it all and has all the tools to be a cornerstone defenseman for San Jose both now and in the immediate future.
Someone like Shea Weber who becomes a RFA at year's end, who can make the difference in a seven game series and has all the tools needed. Look at the Predators play the heavily favored Ducks in their series to see that Weber is a huge part of their success.
Murray’s relatively cap-friendly hit of $2.5 million and ability to eat top-pair minutes makes it doable for Nashville.
With the playoffs in full swing, the Sharks will have the entire postseason to figure out who figures into the teams plans moving forward. And as he’s done every year, Doug Wilson will be making the choices in building this team into the championship squad we know they can become.