The San Jose Sharks have a need for a top-4 defenseman to round out their top-4 group that will most likely feature Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Brent Burns all returning next season. While the UFA market is rather slim for defensemen, particularly those of the top-4 left-handed variety, the trade market could be fairly active in this regard.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson has made his intentions clear that he wants to transition his club to the younger core. But since Wilson includes 30 year-old forward Joe Pavleski in that “young” group, you wouldn’t necessarily call this shift a full on “youth movement.” Therefore, acquiring an over 30 year-old defenseman to fulfill San Jose’s current top-4 defense hole is far from a stretch. In fact, even though Wilson has been quoted as saying his team may need to take one step back to take two steps forward, an older defenseman might be the more likely acquisition. Unless blown up, the Sharks still have a roster capable of going deep into the postseason, something which they’ve had every year for a decade and counting.
What are some of the possible options for the Sharks to fill that top-4 defense void? Well, let’s take a look. In no particular order of likelihood, the following are 11 defenseman that could either be signed as a UFA, or acquired via the trade market.
Christian Ehrhoff, 32, current team: Buffalo Sabres
Ehrhoff returing to San Jose makes a lot of sense. As a left-handed offensive defenseman who can skate and play physical in his own zone, he would make for a great pairing alongside Justin Braun. While the average Joe may own a self driving car by the time Ehrhoff’s contract expires in 2021, his cap hit is only $4 million. For a player who can pot 45-50 points on a strong team (which San Jose is) and play over 20 minutes a game, that is a great value deal. Even if he becomes just a third pair guy towards the end of his contract, it won’t be that much an over-pay considering the cap is going up. While some Sharks fans seem to only remember Ehrhoff for a frequently inaccurate point shot, the bottom line is the guy produces in big time minutes and is no slouch defensively. If acquired via trade, the Sabres will want a decent future package in return. If the asking price is high, the Sabres could also retain some of his salary to balance things out.
Andrei Markov, 35, current team: Montreal Canadiens
For those who don’t follow the Canadiens, one of our Montreal writers Felix Sicard reminded me that Markov has made the careers of guys like Mark Streit, Sheldon Souray, James Wisniewski, and PK Subban with his play-making abilities and power-play quarterbacking. Now the Canadiens have plenty of cap room but they may choose to part ways with the veteran. If that’s the case, a two-year deal around $10 million for the pending UFA defenseman would be a great fit for the Sharks. Any deficiencies in his game as Markov ages would be more than made up for by Braun on what would again be a terrific second pairing.
Dion Phaneuf, 29, current team: Toronto Maple Leafs
It has been well documented that the Maple Leafs have severely misused Phaneuf in a shut-down role. When you look at how he was deployed in recent years it is hard to argue that the offensive defenseman hasn’t been miscast by the Leafs. While he isn’t what he was to start his career with the Calgary Flames, if given a second pairing offensive role alongside Braun, Phaneuf could certainly bounce back and flourish in San Jose. Like Ehrhoff though, Phaneuf’s contract won’t end until the next decade and his cap hit is significantly higher at $7 million. Again similar to Ehrhoff, a potential asking price could be lowered or raised depending on if there is any salary retained in the deal.
Torey Krug, 23, or Matt Bartkowski, 25, current team: Boston Bruins
If the Sharks want to acquire a younger defenseman, Boston might be the place to look. The Bruins already have quite a bit of money tied up in their back end with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and Johnny Boychuk. They also have Dougie Hamilton due up for a raise in a year from now. With both Krug and Bartkowski being RFAs this offseason, it would be highly unlikely to see both remain in Boston. Krug is the sexier name, posting 41 points this season, but Bartkowski had 18 assists and a plus-22 in 63 games during his first full season. Either player would make for a nice young pairing along side either Braun or Brent Burns. Krug’s impressive production would require a nice package in return, but perhaps something packaged around former BU standout Matt Nieto, who impressed in his rookie season with the Sharks, would entice the Bruins.
Jake Gardiner, 23, current team: Toronto Maple Leafs
For whatever reason, the Maple Leafs don’t seem to covet Gardiner’s potential. The 23-year-old already has two 30 point seasons under his belt in his first two full years in the NHL (11-12, 13-14). He may still need to grow into his frame, weighing in at just 184 pounds despite being 6’2”, but established two-way defensemen at the young age of 23 don’t grow on trees. Gardiner is set to become an RFA and despite loads of potential would be significantly cheaper overall in terms of contract and assets given up than his teammate in Phaneuf. Like Krug, Gardiner probably requires a young established forward in return. Nieto, or Tommy Wingels with an early to mid round draft choice or prospect thrown in.
Alexander Edler, 28, current team: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks seem to be in a rebuild mode. The Sedins are in a sharp decline, both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider are gone. Ryan Kesler has been in trade rumors for awhile and it wouldn’t shock anyone to see their top defensemen moved for a future package. If the Canucks are smart, they would realize that they are simply not built to compete in the ever competitive Pacific division in the near future. In seven years in the league, Edler has twice scored 40 or more points, and either scored or was on pace for at least 30 in five of those seven seasons. At 6’3” 215, he has the size teams covet and like all the defenseman listed so far, his left-handed shot would complement the right-handed and defensively stout Justin Braun. Furthermore, unlike Boston or Toronto, the Canucks might not require an NHL ready forward in return. However, they still ought to be able to fetch a tremendous package. Top defensive prospect Mirco Mueller and a first round draft choice might be the starting point.
Mark Giordano, 30, current team: Calgary Flames
Giordano had a career year for the Flames last season, scoring a career high 14 goals and 47 points but you might forget he had once previously gone over the 40 point mark in his career. The veteran defenseman can play in all situations and with Calgary nowhere close to competing for a playoff spot, nothing should be off the table. The Flames would be selling high on their captain, it might take a similar package of Mueller and a first round draft choice.
Brian Campbell, 35, current team: Florida Panthers
Perhaps the only thing that would stop Sharks fans from inexplicably booing the 35-year-old is re-acquiring him a second time. The Sharks traded for Campbell at the 2007-08 trade deadline and he was a tremendous contributor. He scored 19 points in 20 regular season games down the stretch and despite contrary belief, was far from terrible in the playoffs. Campbell elected to move on to the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent and for whatever reason Sharks fans took that as an insult. The veteran puck mover, now with the Florida Panthers, can still skate and produce big time point totals. In 11-12 he scored 53 points in his first season in Florida and backed it up with 19 in all 48 games of the lockout shortened 12-13 campaign before finishing with 37 this past season. His contract has two years left on it at a cap hit of $7.14 million but Florida could certainly retain some of that salary or ask for less in returned assets if San Jose were to pay his entire salary. Chances are though Florida would want talent back in return and would be more willing to eat some of the salary than let the talented defenseman get away for minimal return.
Michael Del Zotto, 23, or Ryan Ellis, 23, current team: Nashville Predators
Even with Ryan Suter now in Minnesota, the Predators still have a lot invested in their blue-line with Shea Weber, making $7.85 million, Roman Josi, $4 million and young cornerstone Seth Jones on defense. That isn’t to say they don’t have the cap room but it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of these two RFA defensemen to be traded out for a forward. It is easy to forget that Del Zotto, former first round pick of the Rangers back in 2008 is still only 23. Once a rising star with the Rangers, Del Zotto scored 37 points as a rookie in 2009-10 and rebounded from a sophomore slump with a 10 goal, 41 point, plus-20 season in 11-12. Another 21 points the following year in the lockout shortened season was hardly a drop off but falling out of favor, the Rangers traded him to Nashville this past season. Ellis, who seems to have been around for awhile is also just 23. The only right-handed defenseman on this list, Ellis is coming off a career year with 27 points. With the Predators depth on defense, perhaps they would swap one of these defenseman for Wingels, an RFA right wing on the Sharks coming off a career year with 16 goals and 38 points. A hard nosed, defensively solid winger with underrated speed, Wingels would fit in quite well with the Predators style of play.
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