Another disappointing season is now behind the San Jose Sharks as they prepare to embark on what should be another Stanley Cup run. For the second year in a row the Sharks were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals in lackluster fashion. Many conclusions can be brought up on why the Sharks cannot get over the hump and into the Stanley Cup Finals. But one simple reason is they were beat by better teams. Chicago and Vancouver were better skaters and faster than the Sharks. For a team that has won a President’s Trophy, been to the Western Conference Finals two years in a row, and is near the top in every statistical category, only minor tweaks would need to be made. However GM Doug Wilson isn’t one to shy away from an opportunity to grab players he so desires.
The Sharks were quick to re-sign one-time 30-goal scorer Devin Setoguchi to a three-year $9 million contract. And about as quick as they re-signed Setoguchi, he, along with prospect Charlie Coyle and the 28th overall draft pick in this year’s draft, was shipped out on draft day to Minnesota for 26-year-old defenseman Brent Burns. The first reaction was the Sharks overpaid by sending basically three first round picks over for Burns. But as we look at the cost to sign defenseman in free agency, i.e. Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million) and James Wisniewski (6 years, $33 million), was the price really that steep? Burns brings quick skating to a defense that lacks speed and puck handling in their zone. Although still learning defense being a converted forward, he is still young enough at age 26 to anchor the Sharks blueline for some years. Burns, a former first round pick (20th overall), has produced very well in the NHL. At 6’5, 219 lbs., he brings a lot of size. Some question the trade with his contract expiring at the end of the 2011-12 season. However, Burns does have a history with Sharks coach Todd McLellan and could re-sign providing the Sharks with what they have been lacking.
The Sharks were not finished making changes. In a surprise move Doug Wilson traded away 30-year-old Dany Heatley for another Minnesota Wild in forward Martin Havlat. Heatley spent just two seasons with the Sharks. After demanding a trade out of Ottawa, he came to San Jose with high expectations from the fans to bring a cup to the city. After scoring 82 points in 82 games with 39 goals the first season, he fell to a disappointing 64 points in 80 games with only 26 goals last season. 64 points was his lowest total since being injured in the 2003-04 season. Heatley went on to win a gold medal at the Olympics, but when it came to the playoffs for the Sharks, he was nowhere to be found. Scoring just five goals and 22 points in 32 games with a (-9), he had Sharks fans wondering if his $7.5 million cap hit was worth the price. The Sharks took the opportunity to grab Havlat, the same age as Heatley, while opening up $2.5 million in cap space. The breathing room under the salary cap could help re-sign Burns and gives the Sharks a speedy, creative playmaker in Havlat. Havlat also brings playoff success, scoring 28 points in his last 26 playoff games. Given the chance to play with Jumbo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Havlat should have plenty of chances to put up points and give the Sharks more team speed.
Free agency is where the Sharks found some players that can fit key roles in the coming season. Michal Handzus comes over from the Kings on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. The Sharks fell sharply in the penalty kill last season and needed some fine tuning. Handzus comes from the fourth best penalty kill team and will likely spend a lot of time stopping other teams’ top guys from getting on the scoresheet. With the loss of Manny Malhotra and letting Scott Nichol walk, the Sharks are able to fill that void with 34-year-old Handzus. At 6’4” and 220 lbs., he gives the Sharks more size to an already big and rough team to play against. And not to say Handzus doesn’t have the offensive skill. He did score 20 goals just a couple seasons ago.
With the departure of Niclas Wallin, Ian White, and Kent Huskins, the Sharks now had to turn their sights on a defenseman that can stay at home. Jim Vandermeer could quietly be a great move for this Sharks team. Vandermeer won’t light any worlds on fire on offense, but can be a real pest in his zone. He can block shots and clog lanes with the best of them and will see plenty of time on the penalty kill. Vandermeer, in line with Douglas Murray, can prove to be very punishing to an opposing team. Vandermeer isn’t afraid to rough it up and is as tough as they come.
The Sharks also re-signed top restricted free agents Jamie McGinn and Ben Ferreiro. One of these players should fill the void left in the departure of Setoguchi and will get the first opportunity to make a quick impression on coach Todd McLellan.
The Sharks should once again compete for the Stanley Cup in the coming season. The Sharks have gained more size on an already big team and have gotten much faster, which is just what they need. The Sharks would love to see vast improvement from core young players in Logan Couture, Jason Demers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and #1 goaltender Antti Niemi. The only piece missing to this puzzle now is a championship and a parade down Santa Clara Street in San Jose.
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