On July 1, 2012, when free agency officially opened, the first call Sharks general manager Doug Wilson made was to free agent forward Adam Burish – a scrappy, energetic winger with a Stanley Cup on his resume and an agitating on-ice personality.
Burish’s four-year, $7.4 million deal was a pretty clear indication that the Sharks weren’t going to get involved in any bidding wars for high priced scoring forwards, even though they seemed to be short on depth up front after a disappointing 2011-12 campaign. Burish certainly wasn’t going to be a guy to make a huge impact offensively, and finished with three points (1g, 2a) in 46 games this season.
The Sharks would be wise to make a bigger splash this summer.
It should be a compelling offseason in the NHL, maybe unlike any other in the league’s history. As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL teams can use two compliance buyouts on players in what will be a brief window before unrestricted free agency begins on July 5 (the buyout window this summer begins 48 hours after the last game of the Stanley Cup Final).
Currently, the crop of unrestricted free agents isn’t exactly overflowing with top end talent. There are some nice players, of course, but there aren’t any Zach Parise or Ryan Suter types in this year’s class. Still, there are some talented veterans, and that pool should only get deeper when some names get added via compliance buyout.
Just what the Sharks do will likely depend on Marty Havlat. The disappointing winger had a disastrous season, and on many nights the Sharks seemed to be better with Havlat out of the lineup than they were with him in, as the winger looked more interested in avoiding contact than he did in having an impact on the game. Havlat finished with just eight goals and 10 assists in 40 games, and the oft-injured 32-year-old played in just two playoff games, failing to make it past the first period both times. He’s owed $11 million over the next two seasons, and the guess here is that the organization is leaning towards buying out Havlat (more on that later, as we work our way up the checklist).
Assuming the Sharks do jettison Havlat, that would free up $5 million in cap space for 2013-14. Breaking out the calculator (and the invaluable CapGeek.com), the Sharks would have about $13 million to fill out their roster, assuming rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Tennyson make the team. They should be able to sign a backup goaltender, Raffi Torres, as well as restricted free agents TJ Galiardi, James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins, Jason Demers and maybe even Scott Gomez, and still have enough left over to add another mid-range winger and stay under the $64.3 million salary cap.
The Sharks’ depth was an issue from early February through mid-March, when they made the oft-mentioned moves of putting Brent Burns at forward and Joe Pavelski at third line center. When Torres, Burish and Havlat were all unavailable for most of the series against the Kings, the lack of scoring depth reared its ugly head once again, and was probably the difference in Los Angeles squeaking by in a seven-game series victory.
The Sharks simply need more scoring depth if they want to compete with the big boys in the Western Conference. Adding another veteran forward that can put the puck in the net via free agency should be on the agenda.