Sharks Re-Sign Devin Setoguchi

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson announced Thursday that he has re-signed restricted free agent winger Devin Setoguchi to a three-year deal. While the Sharks organization always “fails” to disclose monetary terms when they announce signings (as per club policy), sources have confirmed the deal to be worth nine million dollars, an annual cap hit of three million per season.

After a second straight inconsistent season from Setoguchi this past year, one might have expected the Sharks to take a wait and see approach on their restricted right wing. During 2010-11, the eighth overall pick from the 2005 NHL draft  earned $1.8 million after seeing his point total fall from 65 in 2008-09 to 36 in 2009-10.

While Setoguchi did have a strong second half and playoff, it is hard to say that he “rebounded” with just 41 points in the regular season.

Setoguchi did add seven goals in the playoffs in 18 games, three came in one game against Detroit leaving just four spread over the remaining 17. Just another example of some inconsistent performance from the speedy right wing.

This offseason was Setoguchi’s last as restricted free agent and the signing shows Wilson did not want to let his young forward test the unrestricted pool after this upcoming season.

Had the Sharks held of on coming to terms with Setoguchi, it would have been highly unlikely that any one team would have offered a deal over $3.1 million annually which would require a first and third round draft pick in compensation. Not only that, but it would have still been unlikely to see any team offer a deal between $1.8 and $3.1 million, which would require a second round pick in compensation.

Signing restricted free agents away from teams simply isn’t a popular move to make. When you consider Setoguchi’s track record, a second round draft choice is about of equal value.

No question Setoguchi has the potential to be a consistent 25 goal plus, 50 point plus player in this league but potential is a key word and it has yet to be reached in this case.  Now that Setoguchi has a multi-year deal in place, the natural incentive to perform at a career-year level is gone. While that doesn’t mean he won’t have a year equal to or better than his contract, it is no secret that plenty of the better statistical seasons for professional athletes come during campaigns when they are due for a new contract.

Obviously it depends on the individual’s preference to positive and negative reinforcement.  Season to season Setoguchi did not vastly out play his previous contract to deserve $1.2 million more annually.

The thinking on San Jose’s end has to be that by signing Setoguchi to a long term deal while his stock is low, inevitably they will get more bang for their puck when Setoguchi reaches his potential.

However, that “when” really should read “if” because the track record doesn’t indicate an upward trend.

Think of it this way: Going into this past season Setoguchi had point totals of 65 and 36 in his previous two seasons and while they won’t admit it, the Sharks obviously benefited from Setoguchi having another season much closer to that latter number.

Had Setoguchi put up another 65 point season, you can guarantee he would have earned a much fatter pay raise. Most likely into the 4-4.5 million range, an amount that would cause the Sharks much more of headache on whether or not to keep the winger in teal.

Yet with another point total far short of his career year, the Sharks now have Setoguchi under contract at a reasonable price for a 40-50 point winger. Looking around the league at wingers with a similar cap hit for next season, the Setoguchi deal fits right around the middle.

Chris Stewart (St. Louis): 59 point average last two years

Dustin Brown (Los Angeles): 55 point average last three years

Matt Moulson (N. Y. Islanders): 51 point average last two years

Patric Hornqvist (Nashville): 50 point average last two years

Kris Versteeg (Philadelphia): 48 point average last three years

Devin Setoguchi (San Jose): 47 point average last three years

Andrei Kostitsyn (Montreal): 40 point average last three years

Dan Cleary (Detroit): 40 point average last three years

Colby Armstrong (Toronto): 31 point average last three years

In a sense, even if Setoguchi doesn’t reach his 50 plus point potential over the course of his new contract, the deal isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s say Setoguchi were to finish with 47 points each  year for the next two seasons. The Sharks would no question be getting their monies worth in terms of offensive numbers.

But do the Sharks win the Stanley Cup with that level of production from Setoguchi?

Of course one player’s performance does not guarantee losing or guarantee winning. The point to ponder is whether or not another one year deal between $2-2.5 million would best push Setoguchi to have another career year. With unrestricted free agency coming up for a player who has had an inconsistent track record, that very well could push him to a career year that ends up in a fantastic playoff performance and a Stanley Cup ring.

In that outcome, Setoguchi would hit the jackpot as an unrestricted free agent and would most likely earn a deal in the $5 million range, a contract which would be extremely difficult for the Shark to swallow and one they would probably pass on.

And maybe without Setoguchi the following year the Sharks would struggle but they would still be Stanley Cup champions and that’s all that really matters for an organization. That one-year where it all comes together.

The Sharks’ core is getting older and the big three of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dany Heatley would all gladly play through any pain, even a pain so bad that it  forces each of them to retire prematurely, if it meant hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2011-12.

In any case, there is a good chance the Sharks get their monies worth on the contract they signed Setoguchi to on Thursday, but was it the right move at this point in time as San Jose continues to push for that ever elusive first Stanley Cup again next season?

You could say only time will tell, but it is a question that realistically will never have a true black and white answer. Regardless of whether or not the Sharks win the Cup in either one of the next two seasons (or in both, as Sharks fans would prefer), we won’t be able to look back at this one specific question and say yes they were right or no they were wrong.

It’s simply a gut feeling on how the future will turn out based on a particular choice. And if the choice that’s taken is successful, that doesn’t necessarily mean the other choice wouldn’t have been successful. It boils down to which way do you lean?

Personally, I would lean towards going with the “tough love, prove me your worth signing long term” approach by re-signing the player with Setoguchi’s track record to another cheap one-year deal. I’ve always preferred that style where an authoritative figure doesn’t reward a subordinate until they max out their potential.

I can just  picture a GM going up to a player before a season and telling him “I want more! Because I know for a fact that you can bring more” and then that player ends up having a career year.

To me, that style of reinforcement in this scenario would have given the Sharks the best chance to win the Stanley Cup both this season and in the years that follow.

But then again, I’m just a columnist, so what do I know, right?

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