SAN JOSE –- Jason Demers’ career was at a crossroads.
Headed into 2013-14, the puck-moving defenseman with so much promise early as a full time NHL’er, was coming off of his second straight disappointing campaign. Injuries didn’t help, but even when he was healthy, Demers had difficulty earning the coaching staff’s trust and staying in the lineup on a nightly basis.
He played just 79 of a possible 130 games from 2011-12 through the shortened 2013 season.
Fortunately, he managed to reverse that trend. The 26-year-old seemed to rededicate himself to his career both on and off the ice, and the result was a two-year contract worth a reported $6.8 million that he signed with the Sharks on Wednesday.
Demers not only posted a career-high 34 points (including 24 at even strength), but the right-hander essentially supplanted Dan Boyle on the top defense pair with Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the second half of the year. He saw a fair amount of time on the power play and penalty kill, too, and that will likely increase -- especially on the power play -- now that Boyle has departed.
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“I think it was a really important year for him last year,” general manager Doug Wilson said on a conference call. “Looking at how we want to play the game, finding right shot defenseman with offense to his game is important. He stepped up.”
Demers said: “My main goal last year was to stay healthy. If I’m healthy, I’m going to be effective. I felt I could never get into a rhythm the two years before because I kept getting little injuries. It’s kind of hard to get your feet dug into the ground when you’re always getting hurt."
Wilson specifically pointed to Demers’ +14 rating as reflective of his improved defensive play, which contributed to his being on the ice for 19 minutes and 29 seconds per game -- sixth on the team.
“He’s shored up his game defensively," Wilson said. "We want more structure out of that, and I know [assistant coaches] Jimmy Johnson and Larry [Robinson] are going to work on that. But, he has the aptitude and the hockey sense to really flourish as a player going forward.”
“Working with Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson was huge for me,” Demers said. “That’s helped me a lot over the past few years. I really felt like my game has grown, and I still think I can grow it a little more.”
Demers and the Sharks avoided the potentially uncomfortable situation of an arbitration hearing later this month. The new contract seems fair for both sides, too.
Demers, who made $1.5 million last season, clearly earned himself a healthy raise, while the shorter two-year term allows the Sharks to protect against the defenseman regressing again like he did after his promising 2010-11 season.
For his part, Demers seems to realize that he’ll have to maintain the level of play he found this past season in order to keep his job, with other players like Matt Tennyson, Mirco Mueller and Taylor Doherty waiting to pounce.
“They say it’s a young man’s league now, and we were all at a certain part of our career where it was me pushing the older guys,” Demers said. “I kind of know how that feels being on the other end of it. It’s just about being a professional and always having that hunger, never being satisfied with what you have.”
For at least one day, though, Demers has the right to feel satisfied, as he’ll get a chance to play in San Jose for at least two more seasons. It's where he wants to be.
“I want to be in San Jose as long as I can. I love the organization,” Demers said. “They did a lot for me, and I owe a lot to them.”