Sharks Free Agent Forwards: Who Stays and Who Goes?

Like every NHL club, the San Jose Sharks have a handful of players in need of new contracts this offseason. Last week’s discussion involved whether or not San Jose’s three free agent defensemen would return to next season. But what about the forwards? The Sharks also have eight forwards who saw postseason action this past year and are in need of new contracts.

Of the unrestricted variety are mid-season additions Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager, as well as veteran fourth line forwards Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers. Those who are restricted free agents are right-wing Devin Setoguchi, and three fringe forwards in Jamie McGinn, Andrew Desjardins and Benn Ferriero.

So who stays and who goes out of these eight?

Well, let’s start off with the most high profile of this list in restricted free agent right wing Devin Setoguchi. San Jose’s fleet of foot right wing scored 31 goals in his first full season back in 2008-09 when he played most of the year alongside Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Setoguchi finished with 65 points that season but in 2009-10 those totals dropped to 20 goals and 36 points and this past year he finished with 22 and 41.

The 24-year-old Alberta native has bounced around the top three lines over the last two seasons as he has had a knack for streaking in both directions. It hasn’t been uncommon for Setoguchi to carry the Sharks offense for a stretch of three or four games or score five goals in a 10 game stretch but it also hasn’t been uncommon to see him score just a single goal in 10-15 game stretches.

Late last season and throughout the playoffs Setoguchi was back on top line with Thornton and Marleau and contributed seven postseason goals. Seven tallies in 18 playoff games works out to nearly 32 goals over a full 82 game schedule. Therefore, despite his streaky scoring, Setoguchi brings the Sharks plenty of value as a top-six forward. And in all reality, his lack of ability to build on that first 65 point year benefits the Sharks in that they don’t have to sign him to a long term deal in the Ryane Clowe/Joe Pavelski $3-4 million per-year range.

Setoguchi earned $1.8 million this past season and as  restricted free agent it doesn’t seem likely that another team would offer him a type of expensive offer sheet which would require them to give up a first and a third round draft choice in compensation (if the Sharks declined to match). And considering Setoguchi told reporters at the end of the season that he wishes to remain a Shark, he is almost a lock to be back in San Jose for another season.

Offer sheets for restricted free agents are rare, largely because of the compensation rules. Even if a team were to sign Setoguchi to a deal under $3.1 million, they would still have to cough up a second round draft choice if the Sharks declined to match. With unrestricted free agents being available to sign, teams generally stay away from “snatching away” other team’s restricted free agents.

If i were a betting man, I’d bet on Setoguchi returning to San Jose on either a one or two year deal paying him somewhere between $1.8-2.3 million, keeping him at a bargain price for a first line right wing.

Now what about the second most high profile forward on this list? Unrestricted free agent forward Kyle Wellwood helped give the Sharks much needed scoring depth after coming to the Sharks as a waiver claim in January. While the average fan may be more likely to recognize names like Eager, Nichol or Mayers over Wellwood, the Ontario native brings much more value than either of the other three.

Even though Wellwood somehow didn’t have an NHL job to start this past season, he brings the offensive tools of a top-six forward to a Sharks’ third line. In 35 regular season games he put up 13 points and added another seven in 18 postseason games.  He is one of the most crafty players in the league and has nearly unparalleled patience with the puck— a trait that sometimes gets him into trouble but more often than not creates glorious scoring chances for his linemates.

Considering that Wellwood was sans an NHL job prior to last season and didn’t have an abnormally crazy point production after joining the Sharks, San Jose should be able to resign the valuable forward to a one-year deal for rather cheap. Most likely a one-year deal somewhere between 7ooK and one million sounds about right.

Bank on Wellwood remaining in teal next season.

San Jose’s remaining free agent forwards are all fourth line players and when it comes to the three established veterans, it is hard to predict who will be back in teal. Between the likes of Eager, Nichol and Mayers, it’s pretty much a coin toss on who will return. Most Sharks fans will probably be hoping that Eager, whose parade to the penalty box in Game 2 of the Conference final let the game get out of hand, won’t be brought back.

But while his penalties were egregious and unnecessary in that game, Eager was an effective force for the Chicago Blackhawks in their run to winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and given the right slap on the wrist by the organization, (he didn’t play another game after game 2) Eager has the ability to be effective within reason.

That said, as an unrestricted free agent and a Stanley Cup winner, Eager will be a commodity in free agency. He’s certainly not going to be signed to a multi-million dollar contract but teams will pursue him and the Sharks certainly won’t be in any bidding wars—as minor as they would be for a player of Eager’s ilk. My guess is Eager finds work elsewhere next season.

Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers both went pointless in this last postseason and as both players get older, they will continue to be pushed for roster spots by younger players. My gut says that only one of these two will return and most likely for the league minimum. Nichol has been with the Sharks for two years now and has been adamant about loving the area and the organization. The energizer bunny for the Sharks will probably be back for another year but may not continue to be the regular fourth line center.

Therefore, I don’t expect Mayers to be back with San Jose but you never know.

As for why Nichol may not continue as the regular fourth line center even if he re-signs? Well restricted free agent Andrew Desjardins will be back in the mix and as seen down the stretch and into the playoffs, the soon to be 25-year-old rookie brings a physical and scoring presence to the fourth line. When Nichol was out with injury, Desjardins filled in for the final 14 regular season games and played superb hockey in that role. Desjardins chipped in a goal and two assists in 17 total regular season games and added a goal in his three playoff games—all in the conference final.

The undrafted rookie can skate, play the body and as seen on his deflection goal past Roberto Luongo in the postseason, he has a good pair of hands as well. Make no mistake about it, Desjardins will be back with the Sharks organization next season and will certainly push for consistent spot in the lineup.

Same can be said for Desjardins’ partner in crime in left wing Jamie McGinn. The up and down winger was expected to produce at a much higher clip this season but after scoring just one goal and six assists through 49 games, McGinn was sent back to the AHL in January. He didn’t return to the NHL club until the postseason where he appeared in seven games, added an assist on Desjardins’ goal and was effective within reason. Yes he took two major penalties but neither were dirty plays and both were extremely questionable calls.

Unlike the majority of Eager’s penalties in Game 2, you could give McGinn a pass on the penalties because they weren’t of the undisciplined variety.

And last but not least there is Benn Ferriero who chipped in nine points in 33 regular season games and added an overtime winner in the postseason. Ferriero will also be back with the Sharks but perhaps his right-side spot on the fourth line is where the Sharks try to upgrade with a different veteran free agent.

Either way the Sharks will once again have plenty of youth fighting for fourth line roles next season. Combine their talents with what looks like will be the same three forward lines returning for the Sharks, and San Jose will have arguably the deepest forward group in the league again next season.

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2 Responses to “Sharks Free Agent Forwards: Who Stays and Who Goes?”

  1. Scott
    June 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Dont forget Ian White. He is a pivotal signing for the Sharks.

  2. Andrew Bensch
    June 14, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    thanks for commenting scott, my thoughts on white’s impending free agency can be found in my free agent defensemen piece.