Although much of the focus this offseason will be on RFA Joe Pavelski and UFA's Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, there's one player who needs to sign with the San Jose Sharks in order for them to maintain their spot among the league's elite teams. Devin Setoguchi.
Look, it's no secret I'm a fan of the Taber, Alberta native. I've come to his defense multiple times over the past two years when others were ready to ship him off for any defenseman with a pulse. Devin Setoguchi is an integral member of this team; someone who will be relied on next year to not only provide offense but to also improve his play in the defensive zone. With the real possibility of Marleau and Malhotra exploring other opportunities, there's a chance that Setoguchi will be counted on to provide more than just points. Like Milan Michalek before him, there's a real chance that Setoguchi will be leaned upon next year to carry a portion of the team's defensive responsibilities.
That's an unknown, though, unlike #16's offensive prowess. Setoguchi's skill has never been the issue. After scoring 11 goals in 44 games in his first year (2007-2008) Setoguchi found himself placed on the team's first line with Thornton and Marleau to start the 2008-2009 season. The increased pressure and minutes didn't seem to affect him in the slightest, as he posted a 30 goal season in just his second NHL year. Although he had a rough playoffs that year (2 points in 6 GP), Setoguchi once again found himself on the top line to start this past season, this time playing with Thornton and Heatley. It's arguable that Setoguchi was the hottest Shark to start 2009-2010; his 7 goals in 11 games hinted to another strong season for the young forward. However, a leg injury shortened his season and affected him for a good portion of the campaign. Even after he returned, he toiled on the lower lines until he found his skating stride again. Because of this, Setoguchi took what many believed to be a step backwards: 36 points in 70 games was seen as a real disappointment.
However, when you really look at Setoguchi's season, you see that the talent didn't change. Without the injury and subsequent time spent playing with the Jody Shelley's and Brad Staubitz's of the world, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he scores 30 goals for the second time in his career.
But he didn't, and that's a good thing for San Jose.
If Setoguchi continued to build statistically on his 2008-2009 season, he likely would have attracted offers akin to the one Phil Kessel received from Toronto. The fact that Setoguchi had a poor year (again, statistically) due to injury, means that he's likely going to sign for much less than he's actually worth.
Now, his playoff season (9 points in 15 games) might have increased his value a bit. But if a player with Setoguchi's skill set and potential were to hit the open market at this point in his career (he's just 23), he's likely to get a contract representing a cap hit of around $4MM. The fact that the Sharks can lock him up for under that is almost criminal. He's improved vastly in all aspects of his game from his rookie year, and it's not unreasonable to expect that he'll score 30 or more goals next season regardless of whose line he plays on.
I've detailed Setoguchi's skill set in the past (here), but let me reiterate quickly. Of all the current Sharks (the 2009-2010 version), he's probably the second best skater on the team (behind Patrick Marleau). He has an amazing wrist shot and possesses the ability to score from anywhere in the offensive zone. He's also one of the best forecheckers on the team; although he does tend to go for broke with the hits, he's one of the few players who is consistently in the opposition's zone, chasing the puck.
Talent aside, he's also one of the few young players that the Sharks have left. At just 23, Doug Wilson can't afford to just let the former eighth overall pick walk away, even if the team receives compensatory picks. Setoguchi isn't just a star of the present, but he's likely a star of the long-term future as well.
Wilson established the market value for his RFA forwards with Ryane Clowe's recent contract. Although that deal may look bad in hindsight, it gave Wilson a bar that he could use to negotiate with Setoguchi. For a player who will likely see first line minutes next year, a cap hit of $3.6MM is beautiful.
TCY's Final Offer: 4 years @ $14.4MM ($3.6MM cap hit)