As the off season drags on, the noise surrounding the San Jose Sharks makes church mice sound deafening.
Until Willie Mitchell signs, there's always going to be some intrigue there. Although that may happen as early as today, there isn't much to discuss on the Mitchell front; he either signs here or he doesn't. And even if Mitchell were to sign, there are still some holes on the team.
The bottom six forward group, while mostly complete, looks thin. Doug Wilson brought aboard Jamal Mayers and resigned Scott Nichol to fill out the fourth line, and it looks like Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn will find themselves entrenched somewhere in the bottom six as well. Torrey Mitchell, who came on a bit as the season ended last year, will fit in somewhere too. That leaves one forward spot up for grabs.
Wilson is always one to tout the depth of the Sharks system. and rightfully so. By my count, there are at least four players who could be interchanged in that role depending on the team need. Still, there's a name out there on the free agent market that just makes too much sense to ignore. And he's currently skating with the team.
Now, Owen Nolan always skates in the Sharks' informal practices in the off season. This year, though, is different. As of today, Nolan hasn't signed a contract with any other team, making his presence in San Jose all the more intriguing. Although he left the Sharks in 2003 when traded to the Maple Leafs, he's maintained a residence here and still owns a couple restaurants in the city. San Jose means alot to him, and he's meant volumes to both the city and the franchise. Nolan remains near the top in almost every major statistical category, and when he retires, he'll be remembered as a Shark.
Michael Russo, the Minnesota Wild beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, mentioned recently via Twitter that Nolan was looking forward to playing this season after two strong years in Minnesota. Russo also mentioned that Nolan would prefer a California team, and also hinted that he thought Nolan would like to retire as a member of the Sharks.
The last two points are merely conjecture, but the fact remains that Nolan wants to play next year. Add in the idea that it would be a nice story for both the team and the player, and rumors are bound to pop up.
The Sharks shouldn't bring him back for nostalgia's sake. Although, as my colleague Ivan Makarov pointed out, the merchandise sales would be astronomical. No, they should bring Nolan aboard because he fits multiple team needs for a purportedly reasonable price.
At the trade deadline just a few months ago, I was vehemently opposed to trading for Owen Nolan. Things have changed since then. Signing Nolan, now an unrestricted free agent, wouldn't require any pieces... my main problem with a deal for Nolan last year. Now, as a pure money play, it makes sense. He's not going to count $2.75MM against the cap, as he would have last season. With jobs drying up and money in short supply, it would shock me if the 38 year old Nolan were to receive anything in excess of $1MM annually.
What needs does Nolan fit, roster wise? First, he improves secondary scoring. Although he was in the middle of the pack among Minnesota's forward group in terms of quality of competition according to behindthenet.ca, Nolan still chipped in 16 goals on a weak offensive team. Logan Couture will likely replace most of the scoring leaving with Manny Malhotra, but adding Nolan's almost guaranteed 16 tallies (he's scored 16 goals or more in each of his last five seasons) wouldn't hurt. Nearing his 40's, it's unlikely that Nolan will hit the 25 goal mark he did two years ago, but playing with San Jose (a team that is better offensively by leaps and bounds), it's not crazy to think he could net 20.
Second, Nolan brings the Sharks another player capable of playing penalty minutes. Although Wilson brought Jamal Mayers aboard to plug this hole, we've discussed how poor a penalty killer Mayers actually is. While Nolan hasn't been the most defensively sound forward at points in his career, he did play 1.42 minutes per 60 on the penalty kill, top six amongst Wild forwards. Again, Nolan wasn't playing against top competition, but he had a favorable GAON/GAOFF ratio, posting a 5.79/6.14. Mayers, as a comparison, posted a ghastly 19.42/8.30.
Even though Couture and McGinn will be depended on to make up some of the minutes lost as a result of Malhotra and Ortmeyer leaving, it's always nice to have guys who can effectively kill penalties. Nolan fits the bill here.
The last main thing that Nolan brings, in my opinion, is a veteran leadership that this team lacks on the lower lines. Nolan is one of the NHL's elder statesmen, and a trusted voice around the NHL. While he had the reputation of being somewhat of a malcontent earlier in his career, those days appear to be past him. He'd be a perfect mentor and line mate for the young McGinn and Couture, and would help to make that line a real offensive weapon for the Sharks.
The prospective addition of Nolan reminds me somewhat of the addition of Jeremy Roenick just a few years ago. Doug Wilson doesn't have a problem bringing on older players if he feels that they can add to the team. Nolan definitely can, and although his addition would come at the expense of playing time for a young forward, he's no slouch. Nolan would likely bring more productive minutes than anyone else in the system, and add experience to a line that lacks any real veteran presence.
As the off season rolls on, and the informal Captain's Skates become formal team activity, don't be surprised if Nolan sticks around. Signs point to a return to San Jose for the former captain, and I'm all for the idea.