UFA of The Day: Kyle Wellwood

Kyle Wellwood's season began in the Kontinental Hockey League where he played for Atlant Moscow Oblast. After being released from his contract in January, Wellwood signed a one year contract with the St. Louis Blues. However, according to League stipulations, Wellwood was forced to go through re-entry waivers upon signing the deal.

Which is when Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson struck.

On January 18th it was announced that Wellwood was claimed off waivers by San Jose. The Sharks, who were tenth in the NHL at the time and in the midst of rebounding from a six game losing streak that began to put their playoff hopes in jeopardy, welcomed Wellwood into the fold in order to shore up their scoring depth on their lower lines. With Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, and Scott Nichol out of the lineup at that point in the year, Wellwood was given an opportunity to receive playing time from the outset of his tenure with the team.

By all accounts he delivered on that opportunity.

Eventually forming a third line with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski, Wellwood's puck handling and underrated playmaking ability began to produce dividends for a Sharks team that struggled with secondary scoring for the majority of the season. That line, which Fear The Fin began to call the "Hellacopter Line" (a marriage between the term "Helicopter line" which is given to lines with no natural wingers and a nod to San Jose's Northern California roots), produced spectacularly for the Sharks during their time together, allowing Head Coach Todd McLellan to roll three dangerous scoring lines during a game.

Despite all of this however, Wellwood finished the regular season with 5 goals and 8 assists in 35 games-- averaged out to an 82 game season, that production would have earned him roughly 11 goals and 30 points in total. To say that he is a blue-chip forward, or even one that is essential to San Jose's Stanley Cup chances next season, would be disingenuous. Furthermore, his 1 goal 6 assist performance in the postseason was marred by the relative ineffectiveness of the third line during half of the Detroit series and the entirety of the series against Vancouver. Wellwood is not solely to blame for this of course, as Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell also deserve an equal share of criticism for the third line's performance. This is merely to suggest that the value of Kyle Wellwood is just as much an aesthetic quality as it is a quantifiable one-- he makes the third line appear to be more dangerous by setting up scoring chances, but the ability of Wellwood and his linemates to finish those chances is at times lacking.

However, Wellwood's advanced statistics reinforce the narrative that Wellwood is an extremely solid third line winger, one whose assets vastly outweigh his liabilities. He may be an aesthetic treat to watch, but his quantifiable statistics are quite strong when you depart from the boxcar statistics (goals, assists, points) that permeate the media when discussing an individual's worth.

His quality competition numbers at 5v5 are quite low of course, 12th on the team amongst Sharks who played at least 30 games, and his zone starts are nothing to rave about either. 51.3% of Wellwood's draws came in the offensive zone, good for tenth on the team in terms of difficulty (first being Scott Nichol, another pending UFA). However, taking those blemishes into account, one would hope Wellwood would be able to handle his assignments and come out on the positive side of the ledger.

Which he did with aplomb this season.

Consider this-- amongst Sharks forwards who played at least 30 NHL games, Wellwood was sixth on the team in goals per 60 minutes of ice time (0.65), eighth on the team in points per 60 minutes of ice time (1.55), had the best relative CORSI on the team (18.5), was tied for first in shots for on ice per 60 minutes (33.6), first on the team in penalties taken (0.0), fourth on the team in penalties drawn (1.2), and first in +/- per 60 minutes of ice time (an astounding 1.42).

In other words, Wellwood absolutely destroyed his weak competition while he was on the ice. Wellwood posted some of the best numbers on the San Jose Sharks after you account for his ice time, and there's a very easy case to be made that he is a player more than worthy of a contract proposal this offseason. Although I stated above that he is a non-essential player on the Sharks roster, there is no doubt that he is an extremely important tool for the third line to utilize. Losing Wellwood and replacing him with an AHL call up may not kill San Jose, but if bets are being placed, it's easy to put the steadily decreasing value of the American dollar on the loss of Wellwood being one that would do much more harm than good.

Which is where salary cap concerns enter into the fold. If Doug Wilson is looking to upgrade the backend this season, splurging on third line wingers is not in his best interest as it would decrease the amount of cap space available for him to acquire such an upgrade. And with the penalty kill also a pertinent issue, Wellwood's non-existent value in this role does make him slightly less appealing.

However, those slight dents in his resume do little to reduce that the fact that Wellwood is an extremely effective player who deserves intense attention from the organization in the days leading up to July 1st.

Final Words: Wellwood is a hard target to pin down primarily because of his tenure with the team, potential desires as a free agent, salary cap considerations of the team when acquiring the aforementioned pieces that are more essential to the team's success, and market need for a player of his ability.

Wellwood's usefulness as a third liner is beyond debatable in my eyes. There is so much here to like that it's difficult to think of any reason why the Sharks would fail to re-sign him based on performance alone. Looking forward, if the Sharks were to procure a penalty killing forward from this list to play alongside Pavelski and Wellwood on the third line, the Sharks would boast one of the most impressive top nine forward group in the entire NHL next season.

Where the issues begin to crop up is with salary allocation-- Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, a number two defenseman, and at least one penalty killing foward (two if Nichol is released) are high on the list of needs for San Jose this offseason. As we've mentioned before they have the cap space to do it, but it will require many things to fall the right way.

A short term deal for Wellwood, say two years in the $1.5 MM range, is suitable compensation for his services and would help to shore up a third line that has the potential to turn into a very dangerous one indeed. With how well Wellwood played this season however, expect him to receive some attention from other NHL clubs looking to make an impact. The Sharks can't promise (nor can Wellwood reasonably expect) a legitimate shot at top-six minutes, something that Wellwood may be looking for in the forthcoming months.

Wellwood is an excellent third line winger. It is our hope that he begins next season in teal.

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