Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz will present 10 suggestions (one per weekday) for what the Sharks should do before training camp opens in mid-September. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.
When the San Jose Sharks acquired winger Marty Havlat from Minnesota in the summer of 2011, it was thought that San Jose was getting a player that would make its team faster, as well as a guy that had strong playoff credentials.
Havlat never really fit in with the Wild, signing there after the Chicago Blackhawks let him walk as a free agent, and was offered a new beginning in San Jose when he waived his no trade clause to join the Sharks.
The Sharks were also getting a player prone to injury, and that’s something Havlat hasn’t been able to avoid in his two seasons since the deal. The 32-year-old missed half of the 2011-12 season after tearing his hamstring hopping over the boards, and was unable to compete in the postseason in 2013 with a pulled groin. Havlat has played in 86 combined regular season and playoff games with San Jose, but has missed 60.
Havlat’s inability to make a real impact on his team goes beyond injuries though, and his performance in the shortened 2013 campaign should be enough for the Sharks to cut him a sizeable check to go away. Under the NHL’s amnesty buyout rules, the team would owe Havlat $7.33 million, or two-thirds of the $11 million he’s owed over the final two seasons of his contract (whether new sole-owner Hasso Plattner is willing to open his substantial wallet for a move like that is unclear).
Hamstring injury aside, Havlat didn’t have a terrible first season with the Sharks, scoring seven goals and adding 20 assists for 27 points in 39 games. San Jose was 25-11-3 with Havlat in the lineup, and the winger was one of the few Sharks players that had a decent playoff, when he had two goals (including an overtime winner) and one assist in a five-game loss to the Blues.
But, the Sharks were not a very good team in 2011-12. The club barely qualified for the playoffs after an uneven regular season, and the first round thrashing was all too predictable.
This season, the revamped Sharks coaching staff put more of an emphasis on skating in straight lines and getting to the dirty areas in front of the net. Havlat’s inability to adapt to that style of play was evident, as he finished with eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in 40 games (and just one power play goal). He also somehow managed to finish with just six hits (six!) all season, a good indicator of his unwillingness to get involved physically, a necessity for the Sharks to play their style
That was frustrating for the coaching staff, if you read between the lines. Head coach Todd McLellan had this to say about Havlat after a game in Detroit on April 11, which came in the middle of a stretch where Havlat was scoreless in 10 of 11 games:
“I think as time goes on and the game changes and you get a little bit older and you go through some injuries, you have to adjust your game,” McLellan said of Havlat. “Is there more speed there? Yeah, there is. Is he the same skater and speedster that he was when he was 20 or 21 in Ottawa? I’m not sure. We can get him going a little bit quicker.”
Havlat came on towards the end of the regular season, with five points in his last four games. Unfortunately, he sat out the regular season finale in Los Angeles, and didn’t make it past the first period in either of his two playoff appearances.
Things got downright weird with Havlat once the calendar flipped to May. He left the first period of Game 1 against the Canucks after taking a pitchfork between the legs from Kevin Bieksa, but later said that wasn’t the reason he left. He sat out for the rest of the series with what we now know was a pulled groin.
In the practices leading up to the second round, Havlat skated off and on with the team, and eventually told the coaching staff he was ready to play in Game 3 vs. LA. Again, he didn’t make it past the first period, and put his team in a difficult position for the remainder of what was the most important game of the season to that point. The Sharks won on Logan Couture’s overtime game-winner, allowing them back into the series.
Havlat was seen walking from the locker room on his way out of HP Pavilion less than 10 minutes after Game 3, and in the coming days, lost his locker stall at the practice rink, moving to a temporary stall. Meanwhile, AHL call-ups Matt Pelech, Freddie Hamilton and Matt Tennyson all had regular locker stalls, which could be viewed as an indication that the team wasn’t happy with Havlat’s disappearing act. At Game 7 in Los Angeles, rather than sit with his fellow Sharks scratches in the press box, Havlat sat on the complete opposite side, away from everyone.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson pointed out after the season that Havlat had played in 71 of 72 possible playoff games before this season. Could Havlat still be an effective playoff performer when healthy? Possibly.
Does that make it worth the risk of keeping him around for the final two seasons of his contract? No, it doesn’t.