The unrestricted free agent market opens Friday, July 5, and as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, NHL teams have already started conducting interviews with players that are potentially looking for new teams.
(Incidentally, why the NHL would choose to make free agency day the Friday of a major holiday weekend in the United States, when exposure is at its absolute low point, is unbelievably foolish from a PR standpoint – and that’s being nice. But, that’s a complaint for another day…)
Could the Sharks be looking to add to their roster via the open market?
Maybe. But, probably not.
History, the Sharks’ current roster, and their moves at the NHL Draft last weekend all point to a quiet weekend for the front office, much like last summer, when the club added fourth line winger Adam Burish and nothing else. Not to mention, a valid argument can be made that San Jose only needs to make minor tweaks to its roster – something that’s started already – after finishing the regular season strong and advancing to Game 7 of the second round against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
According to CapGeek.com, the Sharks have just $2.64 million of cap space with Tyler Kennedy and a backup goaltender still left to sign. That includes Marty Havlat’s $5 million cap hit on the books. If the Sharks do decide to add another player, they would have to assume (hope?) that Havlat remains on long term injured reserve for the duration of the season, freeing up cap space, or they would have to move salary elsewhere. GM Doug Wilson has already suggested that Havlat won't be healthy to start the season.
It all adds up to what should probably be a fairly quiet offseason for the Sharks from here on out, provided there aren’t any major shake-ups.
Here’s a look at the state of the roster with a couple days to go before the league-wide madness begins.
The Sharks’ top nine could be set now that Kennedy is in the fold and TJ Galiardi is packing for Calgary. The team has all but publically stated that Brent Burns will remain as a forward, while rookie Tomas Hertl looks primed to start the season on the opening night roster. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are your centers for the top three lines, and are joined by Burns, Hertl, Kennedy, Tommy Wingels, Patrick Marleau and Raffi Torres. The fourth line shapes up as Andrew Desjardins between Burish and James Sheppard. Scott Gomez is highly unlikely to return.
Havlat’s status for next season is in doubt after he had major surgery in the offseason, but I still believe he has played his last game with the organization, which is probably better off without the winger who doesn’t fit the identity of the team anyway. Even if Havlat becomes healthy at some point, the Sharks may be better off keeping the oft-injured winger out of game action for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract next summer.
If there’s one area in which the team could use more depth, though, it’s forward, or more specifically at wing. Hertl, for as much potential as he has, is still a wild card at 19 years of age. Kennedy was a healthy scratch for the Penguins in several playoff games as he seemingly fell out of favor with the team late in the year. Torres’ suspension issues are well documented, and one wrong move could land him in the league doghouse for a long stretch once again. Wingels, as hard-nosed, tough and feisty as he is, still has just eight goals in 80 career NHL games. Furthermore, the Sharks’ fourth liners haven’t shown an ability to jump up and contribute on scoring lines.
If there’s one primary area of concern regarding the current roster, it’s at the wing position. The Sharks could use more help here.
Since the day I arrived in San Jose in October, 2011, it seems that defenseman Dan Boyle’s name has been tossed about in trade rumors. The latest surfaced on Tuesday in the Ottawa Sun, which said: “veteran defenceman Dan Boyle is also a possibility to be moved. He has $6.6-million cap hit in the final year of his contract and it’s believed he submitted a list at the February deadline of the eight teams where the club couldn’t deal him.” (The trade deadline was actually in April).
Moving Boyle, though, continues to make zero sense for the Sharks, especially now that Burns is expected back at forward. Boyle may be getting older (he turns 37 on July 12), but players will his skill set, work ethic, veteran leadership and power play prowess are rare. The Sharks cut down on Boyle’s minutes in the shortened 2013 season (primarily on the penalty kill), and he was, again, arguably their most valuable defenseman. Boyle joked early in the 2013 season, “this is not the oldest body in this locker room, by far.” He’s right, and he still has gas left in the tank.
The defense corps, as it stands now, includes Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart, Matt Irwin, Justin Braun, Jason Demers and rookie Matt Tennyson. It’s a young, solid group, and only Boyle would be an unrestricted free agent next summer. They have a chance to grow together as a unit after a successful 2013 that saw them finish sixth in the league in goals-against (2.33).
Just like at forward, though, the Sharks could probably benefit from a bit more depth. I still wouldn’t be surprised if San Jose looks to shed Demers’ $1.5 million, one-year contract extension, after the 25-year-old has failed to remain healthy and has had back-to-back inconsistent seasons. The club could use that money to bring in a cheap veteran – maybe even Scott Hannan, who played well after settling in with the team following a trade deadline deal with Nashville.
The Sharks are obviously set with Vezina finalist Antti Niemi locked up for the next two years, but it’s uncertain who Niemi’s backup will be on opening night. The Sharks still have not agreed to anything with Alex Stalock, a pending UFA that acted as the emergency backup in the postseason. Harri Sateri and Troy Grosenick were recently re-signed, but it’s hard to imagine either of those two 23-year-old players is ready for NHL duty.
Stalock, 25, is a familiar face in the locker room and is still the best option here, and the Sharks would be wise to get him locked up.