The NHL's free agent signing period opens in exactly one month, and it could be the start of a busy time for the Sharks as they try to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15. They have plenty of salary cap space to play with, too, as they approach July 1.
Here’s a look at the status of current players in the organization whose current contracts are set to expire.
Unrestricted free agents
Antti Niemi – The Sharks will almost certainly allow Niemi to walk as a free agent after five up and down seasons in San Jose. The 31-year-old is coming off of a below average season in net, that was preceded by ugly playoff numbers in the first round collapse to the Kings in 2014. Although it may be tricky for the Sharks to find a starting goaltender this summer there should be some names available, especially considering so many backups had impressive seasons and could end up as trade bait. Niemi will find another NHL job, maybe even as a starter, but every indication is that the Sharks will go with someone else.
Scott Hannan – It was a bit surprising when the Sharks re-signed Hannan last summer, and it would be even more surprising if they did again this summer. The 36-year-old said after the season that he’d like to continue his career, but he had a difficult go of it in 2014-15 and it’s probably time for him to hang up his skates. Perhaps the organization can find the respected veteran some sort of role in the front office or on the coaching staff.
Matt Irwin – Irwin is the most intriguing case among the Sharks’ unrestricted free agents. The 27-year-old was in and out of the lineup in the first half of the season, struggling to keep up with the pace of play, but worked on his footspeed and was one of the team’s better defenseman in the second half at both ends of the ice. Irwin could very well get overpaid this summer as clubs are constantly searching for competent blueliners, so it may be in his best interest to test the market. Irwin’s agent offered no comment on the state of negotiations with the Sharks, so read into that what you will.
John Scott – A lightning rod for criticism when the Sharks made Scott their only notable addition last summer, it probably doesn’t make sense for San Jose to bring the enforcer back for a second season. Scott did what he was supposed to do, and was a popular guy in the dressing room, but if Raffi Torres is somehow able to play again it would make much more sense for the Sharks to potentially ice a fourth line of Torres, Ben Smith and Mike Brown (or someone else) rather than rotate Scott into the lineup.
Taylor Fedun – Fedun impressed in training camp when he was one of the final roster cuts, but he wasn’t recalled until March after struggling defensively in Worcester in the first half. He played some decent games for San Jose late in the year, though, and it could make sense for the Sharks to bring the 26-year-old back on another one-year, two-way deal as an insurance guy.
Karl Stollery – Stollery was acquired for Freddie Hamilton and got into the Sharks’ lineup late when they ran into injury issues. He didn’t look like he was ready for the NHL on a full time basis, and he’s noticeably undersized, but the 27-year-old could be a good player to keep around for the Barracuda if he’s open to a return.
Others: Bryan Lerg, Micheal Haley, Travis Oleksuk.
Restricted free agents
Brenden Dillon – After trading Jason Demers and a third round pick (as well as retaining some of Demers’ salary) for Dillon, the Sharks will undoubtedly re-sign the 24-year-old at some point. Dillon had some good and not so good moments in his first year in San Jose, but works hard on and off the ice and could very well become one of the team’s defensive cornerstones if he continues to progress. The biggest question is whether the Sharks lock him up on a long-term deal, or sign him to a shorter one and revisit him as an RFA in a year or two. Either way, he’ll get a very healthy raise from his $1.25 million last season.
Melker Karlsson – Karlsson, too, is a lock to be re-signed after he was named as the team’s Rookie of the Year for 2014-15. The 24-year-old, like Dillon, is another player that the Sharks could kick the can on with a shorter-term deal and revisit later before becoming unrestricted at age 27. After making $825,000 last year Karlsson will also get a nice raise, likely around the $1.5 million range.
Daniil Tarasov – The Sharks will almost certainly qualify Tarasov, who made his NHL debut last season. The 23-year-old has battled injury problems the last few years, but after getting his feet wet in the NHL is one of those guys that could fill in from the minors on short notice when needed or even push for a roster spot in training camp.
Troy Grosenick – The 25-year-old goalie (26 in August) could get a long look in training camp to make the Sharks’ roster, although he’ll have to be better than he was in the second half of Worcester’s season when he was passed over by Aaron Dell. Depending on whom the Sharks acquire this summer, Grosenick could end up pushing Alex Stalock for one of the two goalie spots after Stalock struggled last season.
Taylor Doherty – A second round pick in 2009, Doherty hasn’t panned out. The towering defenseman got a long look in training camp but still has yet to make his NHL debut. Perhaps it’s time for the Sharks to move on from the 24-year-old, like they did a year ago with another high-round blueline bust, Nick Petrecki.
Eriah Hayes – The 26-year-old played in four games with the Sharks early in the season, but was repeatedly passed over for recall after he was reassigned to Worcester in late October. Hayes’ full-time NHL prospects are low at this point, but he could be kept around as a body to fill out the Barracuda roster.
Others: Petter Emanuelsson, Rylan Schwartz, Christopher Crane, J.P. Anderson, Aaron Dell.
(Note: H/T to GeneralFanager.com for some of the figures used in this post.)