Author’s note: In this fourth installment of “possible Sharks offseason additions” we take a look at
three two unrestricted free agent defensemen that would best fill a top-4 role. If you missed the three previous installments, please click on the following links:
Last offseason the Sharks traded for Wild defenseman Brent Burns. The move was clearly San Jose’s marquee acquisition of the summer but as the saying goes “you can never have too many defensemen.”
While Burns gave a “satisfactory” performance in his first year with the Sharks, (wasn’t great, wasn’t dreadful based on the expectations) San Jose could still use added beef on the back-end. The Sharks struggled mightily on the penalty kill this past season. And even though it may have been largely due to a passive system, significantly upgrading the defensive personnel should be seriously considered. Bringing back Colin White and or Jim Vandermeer won’t nearly be enough.
Without further ado, here are three free agent defenders who could help turn this top-10 caliber blue-line into a sure-fire top-5 unit.
Jason Garrison (D)- Florida Panthers (UFA)
The Florida defenseman has been a late bloomer throughout his hockey life and that trend continued into his NHL career. At 27-years-old, Garrison had a breakout year for the Panthers scoring 16 goals and adding 17 assists for 33 points. All of those totals easily eclipsed his previous career highs. The third year defender was also second on Florida in ice time (second only to Brian Campbell) averaging 23:41 per game, good enough for 29th in the entire league. He was also second on the Panthers in short-handed ice time, spending an average of 2:34 per game on the penalty kill.
Garrison did all that playing for less than $1 million dollars last season and therefore it is hard to gauge just how much of an increase in salary the market will dictate for him. He doesn’t have a track record for success in this league but he can eat up minutes and demonstrated a goal scoring flare this past season.
With penalty kill ability, scoring ability and solid size (6’1″ 220 pounds) Garrison would be a nice add for the Sharks. They do however have a lot of money already locked in with their defense, so if Garrison signs with the highest bidder, it is highly unlikely that it will be San Jose.
However, a three year deal averaging around three million dollars annually would be over a 300% raise for the BC native and he would be joining a cup contender while turning the Sharks blue-line into arguably the best unit in the league.
All four of those top-4 defenders can easily average over 22 minutes a game—-no sweat.
Brad Stuart (D)- Detroit Red Wings (UFA)
The offseason addition that makes most sense for San Jose would be to re-acquire Brad Stuart. Fresh off a four-year contract with the Red Wings, the former Shark draft pick (played with San Jose from 1999-2005) never sold his home in the Bay Area. For most of his post Sharks career, Stuart’s family has remained in Northern California.
With a Stanley Cup ring in hand and the best of his prime money making years behind him, returning to the Bay Area to be with his family makes too much sense. Plus, it’s not as if the Sharks are any run of the mill team, as Stuart’s presence would help boost the Sharks once again into conversations as a Stanley Cup contender.
And let’s get this straight, if it wasn’t for a horrid penalty kill last season, the Sharks would have yet again been a top-two seed in the Western Conference last season. They stumbled to a seventh place finish but the core is still intact and their window is still open.
Stuart would be just another piece of the puzzle, albeit an extremely important one. Last year Stuart led the Red Wings in short-handed ice-time, spending a whopping 3:10 short-handed. The next most frequently used Red Wing spent 2:53 on the PK. Seventeen seconds isn’t something to scoff at. Stuart was by far the most relied upon penalty killer for Detroit.
Overall Stuart averaged more than 21 minutes a game last season, proving he is still capable of a top-four role. While not what he once was offensively, Stuart consistently chipped in 20 points per season for Detroit. At 6’2″ 213, he brings added size that would compliment a potential smaller defense partner like Dan Boyle.
Given his family’s love of the area and the fact he’s entering his mid-thirties, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he signed the ever popular “hometown discount” of contract to return to San Jose. If the Sharks are willing to sign him to a lengthier deal in years, they could get him at a much cheaper annual salary than any of the other top-4 options on the market.
Last season Stuart made $3.75 million in finishing out his contract. If he signs with San Jose, a three year deal worth $8.25M total ($2.75M annual average) would be fitting for both parties or perhaps even a four year deal totaling $10 million.
Editor’s Note: Johnny Oduya was recently re-signed by the Blackhawks.
Johnny Oduya (D)- Chicago Blackhawks (UFA) A trade deadline acquisition by Chicago this past season, Oduya is one of those steady defenders that goes relatively unnoticed. He doesn’t put up many points (career numbers range from 13-29 points in a season) isn’t overly fast or big (6’0 200 pounds) but he does his job. Oduya finished this past season 35th in the league with 140 blocked shots and over his six year career he has played in 75 or more games in five of those six seasons. With Chicago and Winnipeg last season he averaged 20:27 in total ice time and was fourth on the Blackhawks in shorthanded ice time spending 2:08 per game down a man. The former New Jersey Devil will turn 31-years-old this upcoming season and his steady play should earn him a similar $3.5 million dollar deal he had last season. That said, Oduya is a guy that won’t be in extreme high demand, and logic will have teams waiting out the market on him. If a team were to pull in Oduya at $2.5-3 million, they would be getting a heck of a deal. If the Sharks could snatch him up at a discounted deal, Oduya would be a logical pickup. But paying him more than Marc-Edouard Vlasic (making $3.1 million) for less production just wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. With Douglas Murray looking ever more like a third-pair defenseman, the Sharks need more size in their top-4 which Oduya doesn’t bring to the table. And his limited scoring touch doesn’t equate to throwing him extra cash.
The Sharks need to address their defense by adding to the top-4. While Douglas Murray can play over 20 minutes in a pinch, the league is getting faster and it would be wise to limit his minutes. The veteran defender is still a valuable physical presence but the goal should to be to keep him healthy and productive all season long.
As for the three free agent defenders, well, if you were to ask for a percentage of likelihood that one of them will be added to the Sharks roster, it’s perhaps as high as 50%, with 40-45% accounted for solely by Stuart.
Most likely to be a Shark—Stuart, Garrison,
Oduya—least likely to be a Shark.