SAN JOSE – The Sharks, like every NHL team this time of year, have some decisions to make ahead of the upcoming NHL draft this weekend and subsequent July 1 free agency period.
This summer, though, there probably aren’t as many uncertainties for the defending Western Conference champions as there have been in the past, as just about every key player is signed through 2016-17 or under team control.
Among players that dressed during the Sharks’ lengthy run, there are only four unrestricted free agents – depth defenseman Roman Polak, fourth line forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, and backup goalie James Reimer. The makeup of the club wouldn’t change all that dramatically if none of them return, and there’s a good chance none of them do.
General manager Doug Wilson, speaking via conference call on Monday, didn’t offer much in regards to what his plan is with that group of players, or the restricted free agent crop that includes Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Dylan DeMelo.
“[We’ll] explore that as we go forward once we know what the [salary] cap is,” said Wilson, who has “touched base” with the RFAs.
The NHL is expected to announce the salary cap for next season within the next few days.
Perhaps the biggest hole for Wilson to fill will be the backup goalie position, as Reimer is very likely to move on. The 28-year-old, who played so well for San Jose after he was acquired at the trade deadline from Toronto, can probably find a starter’s job elsewhere, or at least be in a position to compete for one. That would probably not be afforded to him in San Jose after Martin Jones’ standout season.
In house, the Sharks don’t have any surefire options. Troy Grosenick is signed to a one-way, $600,000 contract through next season, but he was outplayed in the AHL by Aaron Dell – who is a pending UFA himself. Mantas Armalis is a 23-year-old signed as a free agent out of the Swedish league in April, but he will likely have to prove himself at the AHL level before the team even considers him for an NHL job.
Wilson expressed confidence in the players the Sharks have in the system, but suggested that finding a free agent goalie is something they’ll look at. It’s thought that this summer will be a buyer’s market for netminders, too.
“We want to make sure our own young players are given the chance. … In all positions, we feel we have guys that can compete, whether it [is] Armalis and Dell at the goaltending position. We also will have the ability to explore what else is out there,” Wilson said.
Another item on Wilson’s agenda could be extending Brent Burns, who is set to enter the final year of his five-year, $28.8 million contract. The 31-year-old Norris Trophy finalist is coming off of a career year, and could be in line for a hefty pay raise.
Burns’ game grew leaps and bounds in 2015-16, particularly defensively, as he finished second among NHL defensemen with 75 points.
“You know how we feel about Brent. Phenomenal year,” Wilson said. “When we acquired him it was a big piece to acquire. There’s no doubt he’s important to us. We want him. I think he loves being here. Those conversations will take place shortly.”
Wilson was shorter in his assessment of Patrick Marleau, who would appear to be a prime candidate to move this summer after he wanted out last November.
“Patty is an important member of our team. He has been for a long, long time. And we feel he has a lot of good hockey left in him,” Wilson said.
Moving Marleau might not be easy, as the 36-year-old carries a $6.67 million salary cap hit for 2016-17 and had just 22 even strength points in 82 games in the regular season.
When asked about how difficult it might be to make a deal involving Marleau, Wilson said: “Any situation that ever arises, we always do what’s best for the hockey team. I’ve told you how I felt about Patrick, and how important he was to – and has been – to this team.”