San Jose Sharks UFA Defensive Targets: Part One

The young Jack O'Callahan will be one of the most sought after defenseman in this year's free agent class.

With my personal salary allocation proposal finished, it is now time to take a look at some of the notable names who could possibly fill the Sharks blueline next offseason.

As mentioned earlier this week, here is what I am looking for in terms of additions this offseason:

The issues with the Sharks defense have been well chronicled on Fear The Fin during the course of the regular season, and it is in San Jose's best interest to bring in an impact top three player who can play in varying situations, most importantly in his own end. This has been my proposed plan for six months now, and Doug Wilson finally has the salary maneuverability to tickle me with glee.

Taking into account the potential for trades and the likely price of free agent defenseman who could serve as a 2-3 guy behind Dan Boyle, my personal preference would be to spend $18.5 M-$21.5 M on the backend going into next year.

In order to hit that magic number, I currently have $4.0 M - $7.0 M to work with in free agency. It provides me enough cash to land a premier player that can come in and play top two minutes alongside Dan Boyle, attempt to balance out the depth of the blueline and land two mid-range players who would upgrade the unit as a whole by filling in the middle pairings, or work for a trade later in the month to free up some salary in order to land a tier one and two/three player.

To make this more manageable, I have attempted to group each set of players into three distinct categories. Tier 1 indicates the player would come in at roughly $4.0 M+ on the open market and would be able to play top two minutes with Dan Boyle. Tier 2 indicates the player would come in at roughly $2.0 M - $3.5 M on the open market and would be able to provide an increased amount of depth by filling up the middle portion of the defensive core. Tier 3 indicates the player would come in at less than $2.0 M, and would be a bottom pairing minutes defenseman.

What follows are certain individuals I have highlighted as desirable targets in the unrestricted free agent category. Names are accompanied with a brief blurb on what they bring to the table. As expected, Tier 1 players are the ones that everyone who casually follows the NHL are aware of-- this includes opposing GM's, and likely means that a bidding war will ensue for their services. The further you get down the list, the more obtainable the players become.

In my opinion, expecting Tier 1 players to sign in San Jose lies more on the side of wishful thinking than a reasonable conclusion. Doug Wilson has not made much of a splash in this area over the years, likely due to a belief that July 1st is a day when the majority of general managers overpay for players. Rob Blake, who was signed in the twilight of his career, remains one of the few high impact free agent signings San Jose has made in the last five seasons-- Manny Malhotra remains one of the few who signed for below market value to play for the Sharks.

The trade and draft tables are where the Sharks have historically flourished.

Tempered enthusiasm is how I approach tier one players. Of course it is a possibility to gain their services, and I approach it as such in this piece considering the vast amount of salary cap space available this offseason-- San Jose has a near unprecedented number of dollars to spend during free agency due to the fact that big ticket players such as Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov are uncertain returns. However, with history offering us a framework of expectations, assuming Doug Wilson will land a big fish is far from a foregone conclusion.

As the team currently stands, there are two puck movers in Boyle and Demers. Boyle is able to log herculean minutes in nearly all situations, while Demers possesses great power play skills but requires sheltering at evens. Douglas Murray is a depth defenseman who was likely asked to play outside of his role this season but brings a slew of physical acumen to the table. Kent Huskins, while overpaid, is able to provide value on the bottom pairing.

This post is quite long, so the music is just there for you to enjoy while you read-- no particular significance.

Tier One

Dan Hamhuis, Nashville (27): Similar to Marc-Edouard Vlasic in many regards, Hamhuis is able to go up against opposing team's top lines while drawing the tough assignments night in and night out. His offensive ability is above average and he is able to move the puck up the ice well with a strong first pass. Physical play is sporadic, but provides some value in this area. Probably the most well-rounded defenseman on the market.

Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa (28): A supreme shot blocker, Volchenkov is a physical presence to be contended with. He gets the tough matchups like Dan Hamhuis and is extremely sound in his own end. Offensive skills are lacking immensely, and would be required to be paired with a player such as Dan Boyle in order to ensure that the puck is moved briskly out of the Sharks end. Due to his physical play, Volchenkov has struggled with injuries over the course of his career.

Pavel Kubina, Atlanta (33): A good offensive defenseman, Kubina is likely on the tail end of his career and would be looking for multiple years in order to make one last trip to the bank before falling out of top-four territory. He saw tough competition with Atlanta, but was fairly sheltered in Toronto on a less than impressive Maple Leafs team. Kubina gets you what Hamhuis and Volchenkov won't-- a presence on the powerplay, and a big shot in the offensive zone. However, he's less of a defensive stalwart than these two players despite his imposing frame. Rejected a trade to San Jose in 07-08 before Doug Wilson landed Brian Campbell.

Paul Martin, New Jersey (29): Paul Martin might be one of the better defenseman on the market this offseason, and it's quite fortunate for potential suitors that an injury racked 09-10 campaign (he missed 59 games with a broken arm) could potentially decrease his value-- he's gotten very little press from what I've seen. Outside of this season, Martin has been durable throughout his career and logged big minutes on a Devils squad against tough competition-- he also possesses many of the skills that Doug Wilson seems to be looking for in defenseman, which is an ability to move the puck and skate well up the ice. However, he is not known for an especially imposing physical presence which could be a minus for those looking for a big-bodied defenseman to clear the crease. That being said, he is far from a slouch in the defensive zone, and is excellent at limiting shots on net.

Zbynek Michalek, Phoenix (26): Michalek rounds out our Tier One list, and admittedly, he could be considered a tweener-- whether or not he brings in $4.0 M+ is likely up to market circumstances and who wants to invest in a younger defenseman compared to his counterparts. Ottawa is rumored to be a good fit for him considering the fact that they may lose Volchenkov to free agency and his brother (former-Shark Milan) currently plays in Canada's capital (Ottawa, you foolish Americans). Michalek is a great shot blocker and goes up against the toughs on a nightly basis, and would provide immediate help on the penalty kill to reduce Dan Boyle's TOI in this situation. There's some offensive upside, but his role would largely be in his own zone.

Tier Two

Jordan Leopold, Pittsburgh (29): Leopold has bounced around over the years, undergoing four trades in the last five seasons despite winning the Hobey Baker as a college senior. A good puck mover and more than adept at controlling the puck at the point, Leopold would instantly improve the Sharks power play as well as giving them another puck moving defenseman to work with. Defensively however, Leopold is a definite question mark. Sheltered in Calgary and Colorado he was seen primarily as an offensive player, but a stint in Florida this year saw him log some tough minutes in his own end. Whether he turned the corner defensively in 09-10 is up for debate, but the safe bet would be to assume that Leopold would largely be utilized in an offensive role.

Willie Mitchell, Vancouver (33): Mitchell missed the majority of this season (34 games including playoffs) with a severe concussion sustained in mid-January after being run into the boards by Evgeni Malkin. Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault expressed concern in February over the progress of Mitchell's health, and as it is with every traumatic head injury, whether or not a player will be the same afterwards should be a concern. When healthy however, Mitchell is a bruising shutdown defenseman with shot blocking upside. He will be able to go against opposing teams top lines and log big minutes every single night, contributing heavily to the penalty kill. Offensively Mitchell will likely need to be paired with a puck mover, but once entering the offsensive zone, has a decent slap shot from the point that he keeps hard and low. Could be had for a bargain price considering his age and concerns over concussions.

Dennis Seidenberg, Boston (28): Seidenberg was covered earlier this season by Fear The Fin, with his shot blocking prowess being cited as a definite positive for a team that needed help in restricting shots on net. 2010-2011 will be no exception, as Evgeni Nabokov is expected to be let go in order to free up cap space for other acquisitions. Outside of his shot blocking ability, Seidenberg would serve in the three-four hole and be able to provide above average skills to the offensive zone in comparison to his counterparts. Defensively he's sound, but after years of playing in the Southeast Division against middle of the road competition, expecting him to be a stalwart shutdown defenseman in his own end is unrealistic.  A nice pickup to increase San Jose's depth, but unlikely a high impact player.

Joe Corvo, Washington (32): Corvo is similar to Leopold in many respects, as he would greatly increase the strength of the Sharks power play and bring another puck moving element to the backend. However, Leopold is much tighter defensively than Corvo, and with the rate at which Corvo turns the puck over in the Southeast Division, there should be some major concern as to whether he would be the answer in San Jose next offseason. Requires a partner who is extremely solid in his own zone (physically, as well as positionally).

Henrik Tallinder, Buffalo (31): Tallinder has played his entire career in Buffalo, serving in a shutdown role for two of the last three seasons. He was paired with the upstart Tyler Myers this season, but contributed heavily to the success of that pairing-- his 07-08 campaign was equally as impressive as last season's. While Tallinder is not the caliber of shutdown defenseman you'll see in a Dan Hamhuis, his bang for the buck is noteworthy and would be a good fit for San Jose if Doug Wilson is looking for a defensively oriented player to step into the top three. Talinder's big body presence, shot blocking ability, and solid skating round out a player who could be overlooked on July 1st and come in at a reasonable price.

Star-divide

This concludes part one of our look at the free agent defensive targets San Jose could pursue this offseason, and represent the players I feel would be of most interest to the team in a top four role. Later this weekend I'll take a look at some other tier two players, along with a few tier three's. Those individuals include Mike Mottau, Toni Lydman, Carlo Coliacavo, Adrian Aucoin, among others.

As for now, here is my current desired depth chart taking projected price into account:


UFA Defenseman

#
Player
team
age 09-10 cap
projected cap
1
Paul Martin
NJD 29 $3.833 M
$4.0 - $4.5 M
2
Dan Hamhuis
NSH 27 $2.0 M
$4.0 - $4.5 M
3
Zbynek Michalek
52.86 26 $1.25 M
$3.0 - $4.0 M
4
Willie Mitchell
52.86 33 $3.5 M
$3.0 - $3.5 M
5
Anton Volchenkov
52.86 28 $2.5 M
$5.0 M+
6
Henrik Tallinder
52.86 31 $2.56 M
$3.0 - $3.5 M
7
Pavel Kubina
52.86 33 $5.0 M
$4.0 -$4.5 M
8
Dennis Seidenberg
52.86 28 $2.25 M
$2.25 - $3.0 M
9
Jordan Leopold
52.86 29 $1.75 M
$2.0 - $2.5 M
10
Joe Corvo
52.86 32 $2.625 M
$2.5 M- $3.0 M

Three players I project Doug Wilson to target heavily are Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis, and Jordan Leopold. Both bring a good blend of puck moving ability along with an attention to the defensive zone, and likely aren't out of the Sharks price range as a guy like Anton Volchenkov will be.

Willie Mitchell, Henrik Tallinder, Zbynek Michalek and Dennis Seidenberg are all good acquisitions that won't be commanding big dollars on the market like their tier one counterparts. Offensive ability is fairly limited with this group, but shot blocking and strong defensive zone responsibilities make them good value players for a Sharks team that needs to get better at limiting shots considering their uncertain goaltending situation.

Anton Volchenkov, Joe Corvo, and Pavel Kubina seem like long shots to sign with San Jose.

 

Go Sharks.

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