Even with the dawn of NHL free agency still about 10 days a way, the San Jose Sharks have already said goodbye to three veteran free agents. Forwards Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers will not return and neither will defenseman Niclas Wallin.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson recently met with a select group of San Jose media in which he indicated that the services of Mayers and Nichol will no longer be retained. In Wallin’s case however, it might never be known how interested the Sharks were in bringing the veteran defenseman back. News came out last week that the defenseman is returning to play in his native Sweden.
But not only are three players moving on from San Jose, assistant coach Trent Yawney will also be finding new work. The veteran coach has decided to seek opportunities in the AHL ranks and won’t be back behind the Sharks bench.
While neither of these departures come as a major surprise, the most interesting of the four has to be the decision to pass on re-signing the lone center of the group in Scott Nichol.
Assistant coaches come and go, Jamal Mayers did little to impress in his one year as a Shark and Wallin will get to captain his club in Sweden instead of being a 6th/7th defenseman with the Sharks next season. And with a Stanley Cup ring in hand, what would sound better to you?
But for a league minimum contract, one would think the Sharks would want to bring back Nichol for a third season. Yes his past playoff performance wasn’t very pretty and the younger Andrew Desjardins played well in Nichol’s absence for stretches in both the regular season and playoff, but Nichol still brings value.
Even if he might not be the every game fourth line center anymore, he remains a tremendous right handed face-off man and one of the Sharks’ top penalty killers. This past season the Sharks dropped from a top-10 penalty kill in 2009-10 to ranking 24th in the league. In the offseason between those seasons they lost one of the best penalty killers in the game in Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra.
Now giving up on Nichol? Well, Desjardins may be ready for a fourth line center role but certainly the Sharks will look to bring in a bottom six forward with penalty killing experience to replace that part of Nichol’s game.
Of course it is certainly possible that Nichol finds a one-year deal for significantly above the minimum (perhaps between $.700 and $1M) with another franchise but Nichol had been steadfast in praising the San Jose organization and would often speak of how his family loved the Bay Area. Nichol still doesn’t have a Stanley Cup ring and one might have thought a “home town” discount of playing for the league minimum could have been in order.
Wilson certainly has the ability to change his mind if Nichol remains on the market deep into free agency but more often than not when the San Jose GM makes these types of announcements, he doesn’t revert back.
So where do the Sharks stand financially as July 1st approaches?
As our friends at Fearthefin.com pointed out recently, the Sharks have 14 players under contract and will have just over $12 M worth of salary space to work with in order to sign another six skaters to field the minimum 20 of a full roster.
Therefore in spite of Dany Heatley’s hefty contract of $7.5M per, a contract that some feel handicap the Sharks ability to improve the club, San Jose still has the flexibility to sign a five million dollar defender if they so choose.
With this cap room, a handful of experts and fans alike expect defenseman Ian White, who made nearly three million last year to resign with the Sharks. However, San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak pointed out in his blog that he doesn’t think White will be back after hearing the GM’s comments about that particular situation.
What is that situation you ask? Well, Pollak and Wilson have only confirmed what I suggested here a couple of weeks ago that already having three right-handed shooting, puck moving defenseman on the roster might push White out of the San Jose picture.
That said, Justin Braun barely qualified for a “full” rookie season, playing in his first 28 NHL games last season and still has much to learn at the NHL level. If White follows suit of the likes of Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, whom took less money to stay in San Jose, White could still have a future with the Sharks.
Considering White’s skill set, and the increased NHL cap, it is almost certain that San Jose’s midseason acquisition from this past season will hear offers in the 4-5 million range. Yet who knows if those offers come from teams that are as much a lock for a postseason birth as the Sharks have been over recent years. Last season was White’s first taste of the NHL playoffs and you can be assured he wants to play for a playoff team and ideally a cup contender.
It may not be common place for professional athletes to leave millions of dollars on the table to remain with a team and a city but if White truly wants to remain a Shark, a three year deal for around $10 million would fit right into the Sharks plans. If that were to happen, perhaps the Sharks can pair White’s resigning with another “hometown discount” and bring back former defenseman Scott Hannan to a three year $8-9 million dollar deal.
Two defenseman for around six million sounds a lot better than just one for around five million.
It is no question the Sharks top priority will be improving the blue-line this offseason and the following top-six defense corps would represent a huge improvement over this past season:
Dan Boyle—Douglas Murray
Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Scott Hannan
Ian White—Jason Demers