SAN JOSE- Exactly two weeks have passed since the end of the San Jose Sharks season. And for fans of Team Teal, it’s too bad their franchise isn’t an NCAA basketball team. If that were the case, three final four appearances and seven elite eight appearances in nine years would be praised as a pretty damn good team. Instead, the Sharks are once again left without a Stanley Cup championship. And therefore San Jose supporters are bound to endure yet another year of Ducks (and now Kings) fans gloating about their single Stanley Cup victories. Not to mention Sharks fans will also have to suffer through another year of the annoying east coast label as being the “Washington Capitals” of the Western Conference.
That said, San Jose fans will be happy to know that they are in store for another strong playoff run during the 2013-14 season. Cornerstone players Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Antti Niemi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brad Stuart are all locks to return next season. And barring the remote chance San Jose elects to buyout the last year of Dan Boyle’s contract, the power-play quarterback will also be back in a teal sweater as well.
Of course, the difference between another strong playoff performance next season and a disappointing one (like they had in 2012) could very well rest in the decisions on the fringe of the roster. Will San Jose be able to bring back Raffi Torres? What about Scott Gomez? Will Tomas Hertl be ready? Will they be willing to buyout Martin Havlat? Who will backup Antti Niemi?
There are still a lot of questions and today we will start by taking a look at their list of restricted free agents and the likelihood of their return to the Bay Area for 2013-14.
(LW) T. J. Galiardi
It took the majority of the season for Galiardi to find his game in 2013 but the 25-year-old winger finally found it during mid-March. Around that time Galiardi started to mesh on a third line centered by Joe Pavelski before eventually solidifying himself on the top line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns down the stretch. All in all Galiardi evolved from a healthy scratch earlier in the season into an incredibly reliable top-9 winger. Eleven of his 14 points were tallied in the final 21 games of the regular season. While he managed just two points in 11 playoff games, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he reached the 40 point mark next season if he remains alongside Thornton and Burns.
Galiardi made $950K last season and a one-year deal to re-sign with San Jose for about $1.25 million sounds about right. After the strides he made toward the end of the year, there is no way the Sharks are ready to give up on their young winger. If I were to put a percentage on it, I’d go as high as 95% chance Galiardi returns.
(C) James Sheppard
Sheppard missed the entirety of the previous two seasons with a knee injury but played reasonably well in a bottom six role for San Jose in 2013. The former Minnesota Wild first round draft choice can play all three forward positions and for less than $1 million he is still a useful forward to have around. At 6’2″ 210 he brings good size and has underrated speed. He managed just four points in 32 regular season games for the Sharks but played in all 12 playoff games, a sign that the coaching staff trusted him in a bottom six role. San Jose doesn’t exactly have many AHL forwards chomping at the bit to make the jump, so Sheppard seems like a guy the Sharks might want to keep around. The 25-year-old made $825K last season (by rule the qualifying offer must be 105% of his previous deal) and so another one year deal worth $875K sounds about right for next year. I’ll go as high as 65% chance he returns to the Sharks.
(C) Andrew Desjardins
Not going to lie, I’m a bit bias here. Andrew Desjardins has been one of the coolest players to cover as a sportswriter. The soon to be 27-year-old certainly took the road less traveled by to get to the NHL, once playing for the CHL Bucks in Laredo, Texas, a town on the Texas-Mexico border. He’s a defensively sound fourth liner who can take face-offs and isn’t afraid to deliver a game changing hit. As a player who has been a checking-line forward for the majority of his hockey life, Desjardins is as reliable as they come on a fourth-line. He only managed three points in 43 games this past season but his contributions aren’t often found on the score-sheet. Last season Desjardins made $640K, (by rule his qualifying offer must be 110% of previous deal) and a new one year deal for $750K sounds about right. One would think he does return to the Sharks but fourth liners are always hard to read, so let’s put the chances at 80% for his return.
(D) Jason Demers
Jason Demers is an enigma. As a rookie in 2009-10, Demers played on San Jose’s No. 1 power play unit ahead of a some guy named Rob Blake who played the point on the second unit. At the end of that season, Demers had tallied 21 points in 51 games, impressive offensive numbers for a rookie defenseman. The following year Demers only increased his point total by three points despite playing in 24 more games. However, it was his defensive zone play that took huge strides and during the 2011 playoffs Demers was arguably the Sharks best two-way defenseman in the first two rounds. No, he didn’t score much (just three points in 13 playoff games) but he was extremely reliable at both ends. His absence in the Western Conference final against Vancouver due to a high ankle sprain was a big loss forcing more weight onto the shoulders of guys like Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin.
Unfortunately, since those playoffs, Demers hasn’t even sniffed that level of play. His 2011-12 campaign was incredibly disappointing as he fell on the depth chart to a sixth or seventh defenseman. In 57 games Demers picked up just 13 points with a minus-8 rating. And in this past shortened season Demers was in and out of the lineup (albeit early on in the season he wasn’t given an adequate chance to find his game) swamping spots with Justin Braun as healthy scratches. Demers seemed to start playing better alongside Brad Stuart before an apparent concussion sidelined him late in the season and into the playoffs. But Demers wasn’t playing well enough to deserve his spot back once he was cleared to play as Scott Hannan remained in the lineup.
I’ve said in the past that Demers has Dan Boyle like potential, and the Sharks have seen glimpses of that level of ability. Demers made $1.25 million last season, and by restricted free agency rules will have to make at least the same amount next season. Therefore, a third straight one year deal for $1.25 million seems fitting. This upcoming season will probably be Demers’ last chance to re-discover his game as a Shark. If he can’t find it and keep it for the majority of the season, it’s hard to imagine him returning again for 2014-15. I’ll put the chances at 80% Demers returns.
*Next up will be unrestricted free agents, check back in a few days.
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