Daniel Winnik (LW, RW) (80% chance of returning)
Nobody has ever mistaken Daniel Winnik for Rick Nash or Jonathan Toews but the 6’2″ winger has always been well liked wherever he goes. He’ll consistently finish with a point total in the mid 20’s, he’ll grind, dominate the boards, block shots, and consistently kill penalties. He can play effectively on the second, third and fourth forward lines. In other words he can do exactly what Jamie McGinn was never able to with the Sharks: be versatile. While many Sharks fans have been critical over the trade that send McGinn and prospects to Colorado for Winnik and T. J. Galiardi, there are important nuances to note. While “Ginner” was having a career year with San Jose (which got even better after the trade), he simply wasn’t producing when given the opportunity to play on one of San Jose’s top two lines. Furthermore, McGinn was seldom effective in brief stints on the Sharks penalty kill.
Winnik is set to become an unrestricted free agent but he has indicated a willingness to return given the right deal. Since Galiardi, Torrey Mitchell and Dominic Moore struggled last season, it would be odd if the Sharks let Winnik walk. He was by far their best bottom six forward last season and the Sharks need his size and skating ability.
Jason Demers (D) (70% chance of returning)
The 2011-12 campaign for Demers was a far cry from his previous season where he was arguably San Jose’s most effective defenseman in the 2011 playoffs.
Two seasons ago Demers played in 75 regular season games, posted 24 points and finished a plus-19. In the 2011 playoffs he chipped in a mere 3 points but played in every single game of the first two rounds, providing excellent all around play. Unfortunately Demers was injured for the conference final and he hasn’t been the same player since. This past season was a giant step backwards. Demers was often a healthy scratch, as he played in just 57 regular season contests and appeared in only three out of five Sharks playoff games.
A soon to be 24-year-old defenseman, Demers has one year left remaining on his current contract that pays him an incredibly reasonable $1.25 million. He still has high upside as he saw top unit power play time ahead of then Sharks captain Rob Blake during his rookie season two years ago and he made huge defensive strides in his sophomore season. It is certainly possible that Demers suffered the hardly talked about “junior slump” and his trade value remains rather healthy.
Given the fact Boyle, Burns and Braun are more than likely all returning, Demers fits as the puck mover who is the odd man out. Given the right trade offer, Sharks GM Doug Wilson could definitely send Demers packing for a new city.
Brad Winchester (LW) (70% chance of returning)
Winchester snuck onto the Sharks roster out of training camp this past season. He didn’t even ink a deal until shortly before the season started. That said, the veteran winger appeared in every game deep into winter. And despite the fact his playing time took a sharp decrease during March, it seems reasonable to predict his return. After all every team needs a big, punishing winger to grind the boards on the fourth line. Plus somebody other than Ryane Clowe needs to be able to act as “police” out there for players like Logan Couture and Martin Havlat. It will be curious to see however if the Sharks reward him with a guaranteed deal in the early summer or hope he remains available come September.
Benn Ferriero (RW) (70% chance of returning)
It seems like every organization has a Benn Ferriero type of player: a tough, undersized scorer who everyone seems to love but for whatever reason he can’t find a role with the big club. The 25-year-old Ferriero has had cups of coffee with the Sharks. In fact, he has scored some huge, game-winning goals seemingly out of nowhere (even an OT winner in the postseason) but he just doesn’t have the size, speed or skill to really solidify himself at the NHL level. He has one year left on his deal and will probably return to the Sharks but it wouldn’t surprise if he was traded away, perhaps for a late round draft choice.
Antti Niemi (G) (70% chance of returning)
Word around the Sharks is that the higher ups—including Doug Wilson—love Antti Niemi. But the Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 has not been able to steal games for the Sharks as he did with Chicago.
During the 2011 postseason Niemi was awful against the Kings, brilliant against the Red Wings and mediocre against the Canucks. And in this most recent playoff series against the Blues, Niemi will be remembered for nothing but his inexcusable gaff in the third period of Game Five. With the Sharks up 1-0 and facing elimination, Niemi mishandled a simple wrist shot from just inside the blue-line despite hardly any traffic in front of him. The ensuing rebound was chipped home by Jamie Langenbrunner and you could sense at 1-1, the impending doom for the Sharks.
Niemi’s regular season save percentage fell from .920 to .915 this past season and he was rarely able to “stand on his head” as “they” say. He is under contract for three more years at $3.8million per season, a reasonable contract for a No.1 goaltender.
Considering the majority of San Jose’s top prospects make a living between the pipes, the big shake-up that makes the most sense would be to trade Niemi away for any combination of draft choices, bottom six forwards and depth defenders.
That would leave the Sharks with Niemi’s backup Thomas Greiss and prospects Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith battling for playing time. And when you think about it, that’s not that bad of a place to be with goaltenders. After all look at how Niemi and Cam Ward won Stanley Cups as rookies. Furthermore, rookie Braden Holtby came out of nowhere this season to lead the Capitals to a huge upset over the defending champion Bruins. And not only did Holtby knock off Boston in seven games but he nearly equaled that feat in round two, falling just short in seven games against the Rangers.
Who is to say Greiss, Stalock or Sexsmith can’t do the same?