It’s the third day of free agency. What do the San Jose Sharks still need to add?
The correct answer is everything.
Their top-two goalies — Adin Hill and James Reimer — are unconvincing starters.
Their three most expensive defensemen — Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — are coming off consecutive sub-standard campaigns.
Of their five purported top-six forwards, only a couple — Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl — produced up to expectation last year.
But we also need to be realistic: Doug Wilson isn’t trading Hill for Andrei Vasilevskiy, Karlsson for Cale Makar, or Logan Couture for Jack Eichel.
The San Jose Sharks are, probably, who they are.
“Our best players need to be our best players,” Wilson likes to say. And frankly, when your most expensive players aren’t your best players, you’re usually stuck with them. In other words, San Jose has no choice but to count on Karlsson and company to bounce back — nobody else is taking them.
So again, let’s be realistic: How can the Sharks, as currently constituted, improve themselves?
Let’s figure out how much cap space they have first, after inking UFAs Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, and James Reimer. Hill’s cap hit is an estimation:
|FORWARDS||2021-22 Cap Hit|
Including RFA Hill’s projected cap hit, the San Jose Sharks have about $3 million dollars of cap space remaining to work with this off-season.
How did I arrive at this number?
I’m assuming that Nick Merkley ($750K) passes through waivers. The San Jose Sharks are high on Lane Pederson, so at least for now, my educated guess is he’s ahead of Merkley on the depth chart. Same goes for Jonathan Dahlen — the Sharks will want to see what they’ve got in Pederson and Dahlen before risking them to waivers. Neither are waiver-exempt.
San Jose could also carry 14 forwards; I have 13 in my estimate.
Meanwhile, waiver-exempt forward prospects like Noah Gregor, John Leonard ($925K), Joachim Blichfeld ($750K), Sasha Chmelevski ($778,333), Jeffrey Viel ($750K), and Ivan Chekhovich ($776,667) will need to make an impression at camp to grab a major-league spot.
On defense, I’m projecting Brinson Pasichnuk as San Jose’s seventh defenseman. Nicolas Meloche ($750K) could also be in the mix. Unless Ryan Merkley ($863,333) is having an incredible summer in the gym, I don’t think he’s a legitimate contender for an NHL role at the moment.
As for Hill’s estimated cap hit, here’s how I landed on it:
But anyway, I’m just setting the table: This article is about how the San Jose Sharks can still improve themselves via free agency.
First, up front. There’s no doubt that San Jose could still use a legitimate middle-six forward. Rudolfs Balcers and Alexander Barabanov showed promise in high-leverage roles last season, and I’m sure that they hope Dahlen can step in right away. But that’s a lot of question marks on top of question marks Couture, Timo Meier, and Kevin Labanc.
That said, pickings are slim after the first two frantic days of free agency. At this point, Tomas Tatar is pretty much your only safe middle-six forward bet left on the market. You can also take a swing at a Nick Ritchie, Marcus Johansson, or Nikita Gusev type.
Would Tatar come for $3 million? Probably not, I’d guess many other teams are eyeing him as the big bargain this off-season.
For what it’s worth, I checked in with an agent who represents a quality young depth forward — he says that the San Jose Sharks haven’t called. Now this forward is no Tatar, but it makes me wonder if San Jose is done adding NHL-caliber forwards right now. I don’t have any info on Tatar himself right now.
So while Tatar would be ideal for any team looking to make the playoffs — there’s actually a more obvious, easy area to fix on this San Jose roster. It’s not an exciting add, by any means.
But consider what Wilson said on adding Bonino and Cogliano: “The young players will have to come in and knock the door down, take a spot on the team.”
To some degree, Wilson appears to have achieved a higher level of competition up front. But has he done enough for his back-end?
“I like our defense,” Wilson countered, when asked about adding another blueliner earlier this week.
On the other hand, I have the inexperienced Pasichnuk penciled in as the club’s seventh defenseman. That means, in case of injury, the San Jose Sharks might be relying on Pasichnuk, Meloche, or Merkley to provide steady NHL minutes. That doesn’t seem prudent to me.
I’m not suggesting, by the way, that the Sharks should chase a Ryan Murray. I mean, maybe they should, but he’ll probably be too expensive. But following the Cogliano formula, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a defenseman who can still give you sound bottom-pairing minutes and provide veteran leadership for around the minimum.
But again, so far, it’s no dice from what I’ve gathered. According to sources, San Jose did not pursue Jon Merrill, who signed for $850,000 with Minnesota. They also haven’t reached out to ex-Shark Jason Demers.
Again, these aren’t the most electrifying names, but they offer an NHL-caliber security blanket and force your younger defenders to “knock the door down” to make the line-up.
Maybe the San Jose Sharks will add a veteran bottom-pairing defenseman yet — Merrill and Demers were just two obvious fits for that role. There are others.
But it makes me wonder if the Sharks are done with free agency this off-season?
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