Despite making a couple of moves on July 1, the Sharks are likely not done making changes to their roster.
Coming off a first-ever Stanley Cup finals visit, the San Jose Sharks could have chosen to let its free agents walk without any new signings. After all, they were losing only players from the bottom of their forward, blue-line and goalie depth charts.
Simply re-signing every restricted free agent (RFA) would leave them a full roster. Despite the national perception as an old team, only four players under contract for the 2016-17 NHL season have seen their 32nd birthday so most of the team should continue to improve.
There is no shortage of young talent to fill in the bottom of the depth chart. Many have prior experience with the Sharks.
Barclay Goodrow has 74 games of NHL experience and the kind of speed San Jose needed in the Stanley Cup finals. He played well enough in the AHL last season (20 goals, 17 assists in 67 games) to look ready for an everyday role on the fourth line.
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Behind him is the strong offensive potential of Nikolay Goldobin. He had 21 goals and 23 assists in 60 AHL games and got a goal and assist in his first nine NHL games.
There are two other young players that could be available: Timo Meier made a strong push to make the 2015-16 roster and was incredible overseas, while re-signing RFA Ryan Carpenter would bring back someone who played only one game with the Sharks but is coming off being the San Jose Barracuda’s best player last season.
Thus, losing Nick Spaling and Dainius Zubrus means nothing. One would have had trouble staying in the lineup if everyone was healthy and the other would not make the team.
However, San Jose added a scoring-line forward with speed to bolster the unit rather than standing pat. Mikkel Boedker is not a great defender but is the rare forward with more takeaways than giveaways and is young enough (26 years old) to continue to develop the talent that made him the eighth overall pick in 2008.
That ensured this unit is better than last season even if RFA Matt Nieto is lost. The other outside free agent signing the Sharks made addressed their only significant blue-line loss and should allow the team to play faster.
Roman Polak was arguably the most important player lost. He helped San Jose through the Western Conference, but was also exposed in the Stanley Cup finals for his lack of speed. Almost any team can overcome losing its worst defenseman, even if that was only true because the blue-line talent going into last postseason was probably the best in the NHL.
Just re-signing RFA Dylan DeMelo alone could have ended up being an upgrade. Even if he plays as well as he did filling in while defensive ace Marc-Edouard Vlasic was hurt at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season, the impact of losing Polak would be minimal.
Moreover, Mirco Mueller is coming off a strong finish with the Barracuda and has over half a season of experience with the Sharks. He should be able to at least fill in.
Yet the first free agent general manager Doug Wilson added was David Schlemko. Peaking now as a third-pair defenseman, he is still likely to beat out DeMelo for the last active spot.
While he offsets the left-right balance of blue-line pairs, he is capable of playing both sides. He may not score a lot but can be an asset on the power play and is not much of a downgrade on the penalty kill from Polak while moving the puck better.
The only other significant player lost was James Reimer. Everyone knew he would not want to sit behind Martin Jones when he played well enough to be a starter. He was phenomenal with San Jose but played just eight games and filled in for about half a postseason contest.
With Jones coming off a solid first season as a starter followed by a brilliant Stanley Cup playoff, the Sharks are not going to give anyone else a chance to be a starter. In fact, their 16 back-to-back games in the 2016-17 NHL season might be the only times anyone else tends goal.
For that reason, a backup goalie might not seem crucial to San Jose’s success. However, everyone saw how crushing having an AHL goalie in that role could be with Alex Stalock the last two seasons. Right now, that is the situation Wilson faces headed into training camp with.
Troy Grosenick is going to be on a one-way contract in the final contract year. He was not even the best goalie for the Barracuda last season and will be waived (but probably not claimed, meaning he heads back to the minors) if he cannot handle the backup NHL role.
Aaron Dell beat him out for that starting AHL role and signed a two-way contract Friday. He currently projects as the backup but can be sent down if he fails.
You can bet Wilson would like to go into training camp stronger than that in net. The problem is that General Fanager shows the Sharks having under $2.4 million in cap room without a backup goalie or any scratched forwards. More importantly, that has recently re-signed career NHL reserve Micheal Haley dressed.
Haley is on a two-way contract but could well be among the scratched forwards because his presence comes at an affordable cap hit and his enforcer talents could come in handy. Adding at least one active forward—Goodrow would not just be the most cap-friendly but probably best move—brings San Jose’s available cap room to $1.75 million.
Ignoring that rosters basically never carry just two scratched skaters, that could be enough room for a backup goalie. However, teams almost never go right up to the cap because of the potential more players must be added to the NHL roster because of minor injuries (major ones usually allow teams to exempt that player’s salary hit).
Moreover, that scenario would mean not bringing two significant RFAs back that were given qualifying offers. This is unlikely since neither is a proven enough commodity to demand more in free agency than the Sharks can afford, especially with the compensation that would come with signing them away.
While San Jose should let Nieto go for the third-round consolation pick if anyone offers him $1.25 million, they will probably pay him at least that and he is as good an additional forward as Wilson is likely to get. Not signing DeMelo would be worse, as it would further stunt Mueller to be the scratched NHL defenseman rather than play at the AHL level.
One move that has been suggested is trading Patrick Marleau. Even if a trade could be worked out with a team that he was willing to go to (he has a no-movement clause), the Sharks would need to replace a versatile if declining and hugely overpriced two-way forward.
The money would enable that replacement and a backup goalie, but the best forwards will be signed away making this an option with an expiration date probably sometime next week. Another move might be trading or releasing Tommy Wingels, who will clearly not live up to his potential and could be adequately replaced by someone with a smaller cap hit.
Whatever is lost to clear room, adding a backup goalie is going to be a more important gain. Going into October with only Grosenick and Dell competing for the job would be a mistake.