While the San Jose Sharks typically stand quiet on the opening day of free agency, 2011 brought a much different flavor to the Bay Area. A little bit of Los Angeles and Edmonton flavor in fact as San Jose inked former Oiler defenseman Jim Vandermeer and former King center Michal Handzus on Friday.
Vandermeer’s signing came first and by all circumstances was a puzzling signing on the first day of the free agency period. The 31-year-old defenseman has bounced around five different NHL teams after first appearing with Philadelphia Flyers back during the 2002-03 season. At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, Vandermeer helps add defensive depth for the Sharks as a sixth/seventh defenseman but those types of depth defenders typically remain available for weeks to come. A tad surprising to see this type of signing on July 1.
According to TSN the deal is for one year at one million which all but confirms the fact that Kent Huskins won’t be back with the Sharks as a comparable deal and position would have been in order.
The bigger signing, one most San Jose followers were expecting to be made came later in the day when GM Doug Wilson announced the signing of Handzus. A 12-year veteran center, Handzus will look to fill the third line center void left by the combination of Devin Setoguchi (traded to Minnesota) and Joe Pavelski’s assumed return to a top-six role.
Courtesy of the Sharks media relations and now sjsharks.com, the following was noted about Handzus, who posted back-to-back 42 point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 before finishing with 30 last season:
“He led all Kings forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game, averaging 2:24 on the fourth best penalty kill team in the NHL. He led the team in faceoffs taken and finished with a 51.9% faceoff percentage.”
With the Sharks losing centers Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol in now back to back off-seasons, gaining veteran help in the face-off circle and penalty kill was absolutely paramount. And Handzus is not only one of the most highly regarded penalty killers in league but typically has an offensive flair equal to that of what Malhotra and Nichol provide combined in a given season.
That said, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the 6’4″ 220 pound 34-year-old center’s point totals took a dip from that 42 mark to 30 and could very well mean a further dip to follow in 2011-12. It is not uncommon for players to have steep drop-offs in a short amount of time.
However, with Handzus signed to just a two-year deal at $2.5 million dollars per year, 25+ point seasons and continued defensive/penalty kill prowess would more than live up to the contract especially when you consider some of the other deals signed by comparable forwards on Friday.
Former Predators forward Joel Ward offers similar tools (although not a center) and signed for four years at $3.0 million per with the Washington Capitals and Scottie Upshall signed for four years at $3.5 million per with the Florida Panthers. (Upshall also not a center).
While free agent forwards like Marty Reasoner, Vernon Fiddler and Eric Belanger signed for less money elsewhere, only Belanger comes close to matching the max offensive upside Handzus brings to the table.
When you consider Ward, Upshall, Reasoner, and Fiddler all average in and around 30 points per season and Belanger around 38 for an average, there is without a doubt a good chance Handzus brings San Jose more bang for their buck than all five of these players.
Perhaps not the two time 50 point scorer he once was, Handzus still has the talent and drive to have another 40 plus point season. Now in order to increase the likelihood of that happening, the Sharks could remain active in the free agent market.
Veteran forwards still available that could punch home some of Handzus’ passes are longtime Predator J. P. Dumont or longtime Devils Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.
As for one player already on the Sharks roster who can benefit the most from Handzus’ presence? No doubt that would be Jamie McGinn. Despite falling on hard times last season (played half the season in the AHL), McGinn has a heavy wrist shot that caught many goalies by surprise two seasons ago when the now 23-year-old scored 10 goals in 59 games while playing minimal minutes.
Given additional minutes alongside a playmaker in Handzus, 15-20 goals isn’t out of the question for McGinn if he can play well enough to stay in the NHL for a full season. McGinn did take a bit of a pay-cut after his down year and his confidence may be shaken but a chance to play alongside a playmaking center might just do the trick.
All in all, day one of free agency a good one for the Sharks.