We are now over a week into the free agency period and while some top caliber free agents remain, the pool is getting slimmer. And slowly but surely the list of free agents that could make sense for the Sharks is also dwindling. That said there are still a few lower tier options left that could help boost the Sharks forward depth including….
Petr Sykora (RW) – Last team: New Jersey Devils
Many out there think San Jose needs to get younger and while many of their stars are indeed over 30, the Sharks are actually in the middle of the pack in average age per team with an average age of 28.79.
Considering there is a prime championship window that is rapidly closing for players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Martin Havlat and Dan Boyle, getting younger on the NHL roster isn’t necessarily the best idea.
The time to win is now, and a free agent like veteran forward Petr Skyora might be an answer to the Sharks scoring depth issues.
Despite spending the 2010 season in the KHL among other places, Skyora returned to the New Jersey Devils organization last season and played in all 82 regular season games. Originally drafted by the Devils back in 1995, Skyora is no stranger to the Stanley Cup Finals, winning two cups (one with the Devils in 2000, and one with the Penguins in 2009, as well as losing four different Cup finals with New Jersey (twice), Anaheim and Pittsburgh.
This past season he showed he still had significant offensive flair scoring 21 goals and 44 points at age 35, which is pretty impressive for a mid-30-year old winger not named Teemu Selanne or Ray Whitney. Not to mention Sykora put up those numbers playing third line minutes.
Now it is no secret that the Sharks could use more scoring punch on their third line. If signed, Sykora could play on that third line or up in the top-six and bump Havlat, Ryane Clowe or Joe Pavelski down to the third line.
While Skyora wasn’t used at all in penalty killing situations for New Jersey last season, his presence could allow a player like Pavelski to focus on more of a defensive role. However, San Jose did have Pavelski play on the top line with Thornton last season (a large offensive role) and it doesn’t seem like they want to deviate from that plan. At the same time anything is possible and San Jose ought to be exploring all avenues of forward depth.
Skyora played for only 650K last season and his former long time New Jersey Devils coach Larry Robinson just signed on with the Sharks as an associate coach. While Robinson is a more defensive minded guy, he certainly would have the ability to give Wilson the green light or red light on bringing in Skyora.
Daniel Winnik (LW)- Last team: San Jose Sharks
When this past season ended most fans and media alike were in agreement that of all San Jose’s free agents to be, Winnik made the most sense to be re-signed. Winnik was the best performer of San Jose’s deadline acquisitions from last season and he played a style fitting of what the Sharks are preaching for next season.
However at the beginning of the free agency period it was essentially made clear by Wilson to the media that they would not be re-signing the former Avalanche and Coyotes winger.
But yet Winnik still remains unsigned and the Sharks may indeed circle back into their negotiations. It wouldn’t be the first time a Bay Area athlete was thought to be moving on as a free agent only to return anyway. In 2010, San Francisco Giants free agent catcher Bengie Molina was “long gone” according to the organization but after failing to find a deal to his liking with another team, Molina signed back with the Giants.
It’s still possible the Sharks bring Winnik back and as it stands he is the best available penalty killer on the market. He is strong in his own end, a willing shot blocker and tremendous on the fore-check. His speed is underrated as he plays a smart game by using the entire sheet of ice and using his big frame to shield the puck. For Sharks fans who didn’t get enough of a glimpse of him last season, think of him as a faster, less offensively gifted Clowe but much stronger in his own end.
Last season Winnik made $1.1M and given the market of players signing recently, a raise to at-least $2M is in order and anything at or less than $2.5 would be fair value.
Peter Mueller- (C)- Last team: Colorado Avalanche
There is no denying the injury concerns with Mueller who has suffered from multiple hits to the head including one by then Shark Rob Blake in 2009.
Mueller missed the entire 2009 playoffs as well as the entire 2010 regular season before returning to the Avalanche for 32 games last season where he scored seven goals and 16 points.
It will be hard for anybody to know what exactly Mueller will be able to bring with his long absence but if 100 percent healthy, Mueller has the potential to be a dynamic second line player. Hockey fans saw him sparkle in his rookie year back in 2007 where he scored 22 goals and added 32 assists for the Coyotes.
That skill level is certainly still there and he is still only 24-years-old. Mueller was non-tendered by the Avalanche after making $2.0 million last season but a one year deal at that same price would be well worth the gamble for any team in need of forward depth and versatility.
Currently the Sharks lack a true third line center. Michal Handzus certainly did not fill the role last season, and Andrew Desjardins seems better suited for the fourth line center role. If the Sharks are serious about contending and want to leave Pavelski in the top-six, they ought to be looking to find a new third line center.
Mueller might just be that guy.
Jesse Winchester (C)-Last team: Ottawa Senators
San Jose’s penalty kill was second to worst in the league last season, and that fact alone is why many are surprised that Winnik is not already back under contract. But if Winnik is seen as too expensive, then Winchester (Jesse, not Brad) might be the next best solution.
While the undrafted center doesn’t have the offensive punch that Winnik does, he did spend an average of 2:14 per game on the penalty kill for the Senators who finished with a respectable 81.6 percent kill rate. Overall Winchester averaged just 10:38 in TOI last season which is fitting of a fourth line center but he is a dynamo in the face-off dot. Last season he won 53.6 percent of his draws, a number actually down from his previous two seasons (55.6 percent in 2010-11 and 55.4 percent in 2009-10).
The soon-to-be 29-year-old is now a veteran of 233 NHL games over four seasons and may be due for a slight increase in minutes. Between him and Desjardins, the two could be used as a pair of 3.5 centers instead of a third line center and a fourth line center. (If that makes any sense at all).
Winchester made $750,000 last season and definitely won’t break the bank. Most likely a one-year $800,000 type contract would make sense.
At 6’1,” 215, Winchester brings good size and as noted by the above percentages has a Joe Thornton esque face-off ability. Combine that with a willingness to help kill penalties, and Winchester certainly looks like a viable option for the Sharks.
Considering San Jose’s lack of cap space, it seems much more likely that one of these four players ends up in a Sharks uniform than the likes of Shane Doan or Alex Semin. And if you include Kristian Huselius into the group, whom we discussed a Sharks target earlier this offseason, and the likelihood is rather high that one of these five ends up in San Jose. An estimated guess of 75 percent that one of the five ends up in a Sharks sweater for this upcoming season.
Most likely to be a Shark—Huselius, Mueller, Winchester, Sykora, Winnik–least likely to be a Shark