While certain free agents left on the market (with bigger names mind you) have sat there for weeks, former Devils defenseman Colin White hardly spent an hour without a job. White, 33, was bought out of his $3 million contract with New Jersey after passing through the waiver wire on Tuesday. Less than 24 hours later, he had become a San Jose Shark.
A second round pick by the Devils back in 1996, White has earned two Stanley Cup rings with the Devils and at 6’4″ and 220 pounds, he clearly adds size and toughness to a Sharks defensive corps that has lacked a certain tenacity in the past.
The veteran left-hander won’t score much, just a career high of five goals and 19 assists coming in separate seasons, and White has never had more than 20 points in any one campaign. However, over the years White has been a consistent force for the Devils, playing in 69 or more games in 9 of his 10 full seasons in the league.
Furthermore, last season White averaged over 18 minutes in ice time and finished third on the Devils in blocked shots, numbers that would tell you he is more than capable of filling out a team’s third pair as sixth defenseman.
And while the Sharks have only inked him to a one-year, $1 million dollar deal, one should be cautious about what the Sharks are getting. After all, White, a proven and consistent veteran has signed on to the same exact deal that the injury prone Jim Vandermeer (Sharks) and Kent Huskins (Blues) received this offseason.
Of course at this stage of his career, and with the Sharks’ other defense options, White doesn’t have to be a guy relied upon in a starting role, perhaps just 40 or so games as a fill in. But at $1 million? One thing is for certain, with a healthy roster, either White or Vanderemeer will be out of the starting six. Depending on how the Sharks feel of Justin Braun’s progress, both White and Vandermeer could be on the outside of the opening night lineup.
Spending $2 million combined on defenseman No.7 and No. 8? Not to mention the backup netminder is making $2 million as well? On any given night $4 million worth of cap space on three different players might not see a second of ice time. That just doesn’t add up right for a Sharks organization that typically doesn’t have these types of contracts on the bench, in the press box or buried in the minors.
Obviously, defenseman are much more highly thought of by NHL teams, but are the Sharks new depth defenseman twice as valuable as the depth forward they recently signed in veteran Andrew Murray? The former Columbus Blue-Jacket recently signed on with San Jose at the cap hit of $575,000, to be a fourth line grinder/depth forward. Last season, energy man and fan favorite Scott Nichol made less than a million, so did current unrestricted free agent forward Kyle Wellwood.
Injuries happen, but it’s hard to believe either White or Vandermeer will do more to help the Sharks this season than Nichol or Wellwood did a year ago. And it’s not that they don’t have the skill set when healthy to be contributors but rather where is the ice time going to come from? Difficult to imagine paying that much money for defenseman on the outside of the starting six.
Considering there are defenseman on the market who can fit those roles for cheaper deals as training camp tryouts or early season pickups, seems puzzling to spend more money now or in Vandermeer’s case—the opening day of free agency— on players not projected to start, especially when the team has holes in their starting forward group.
As noted here earlier this offseason, San Jose’s bottom six as currently constructed will have to play lights out hockey in order to be considered even an average bottom-six group amongst projected playoff teams. With all these “win now” moves that the Sharks have been making, one would expect a name like John Madden, Chris Drury, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier or Jarkko Ruutu to be the next new signing.
With the Sharks striving for their first Stanley Cup and in their seventh or eighth year in a row as a legit contender, quite odd for them to just ignore the bottom six when every player is critical to becoming the last team standing.
Considering the past two teams to knock the Sharks out of the playoffs (both losses coming in the Western Conference Final) had dynamite third and fourth line players like Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky (Chicago 2009-10) and Chris Higgins, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, Jannik Hansen (Vancouver 2010-11) the Sharks of the upcoming season don’t even touch the forward depth these two teams had.
San Jose’s defense for this season is much improved, and arguably as deep as those two teams had in their Cup Final runs, but overall the Sharks still look like a team that will fall short of the Cup once again this season.
Unless the Sharks trade either one of their young puck moving defensemen in Jason Demers or Justin Braun for an equally talented forward in return, it appears that San Jose will be stuck with a below-average bottom six.