Mar 26, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Daniel Winnik (34) skates with the puck past Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan O'Byrne (3) during the first period at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
If you missed it yesterday, Daniel Winnik took his shorts-wearing talents to Anaheim, signing a two-year, $3.6 million contract with the Ducks. The obvious question stemming from that news is why Doug Wilson and company didn't opt to retain him at what appears to be a very fair price. I'm not privy to contract negotiations so there's no way to be sure about an answer but a quote from Winnik in an interview on the Ducks' official website might help piece together what transpired:
There were some discussions and then they signed (Adam) Burish. Doug Wilson’s quotes were pretty straight forward that they had moved on from me as a player.
If we take Winnik's comments at face value, the Sharks apparently negotiated with Winnik's agent prior to free agency opening on July 1st and then decided to sign Adam Burish instead. There are a couple of reasons why that could have happened. The most likely seems to be that Winnik's contract demands at the time were substantially higher than the $1.8mil/year he settled on. That theory fits with various rumors that Winnik's representation has liked to play hardball in the past, which led to his departure from both Phoenix and Colorado, both teams opting to trade the forward rather than re-sign him at his asking price. It also might help explain why Winnik remained un-signed for so long.
Another possibility is that the Sharks simply preferred Burish to Winnik. I'd have a hard time agreeing with that assessment of their abilities. Although Burish has played tougher minutes on the whole over the past two seasons than Winnik, both in terms of where he's started his shifts and the quality of the opposing players he's faced (although Burish was deployed almost exclusively against bottom-six forwards this past year), Winnik has taken on tough minutes himself and crushed them to a far greater degree than Burish, both in the rate at which he's contributed to outshooting his opponents and how much he's helped his team as a whole improve in that regard. Winnik is also one of the best penalty-killing forwards in the NHL, in terms of shorthanded minutes played as well as shot and goal suppression when down a man. Burish struggled the one time in his career he was given a featured role on a PK unit.
What's really puzzling here, based on Wilson's comments at the time of the Burish signing that they would no longer pursue Winnik and Winnik's echoing of those comments in this interview, is that the Sharks appeared to consider Winnik and Burish an either/or proposition when in reality they had the cap space and need for both players. The team's bottom six is still a mess and adding a guy like Winnik who can tilt the ice in his team's favor, for the deal he inked yesterday, certainly wouldn't have hurt. Of course, it's not that simple; if talks broke down between the two camps prior to free agency, as Winnik alludes to, it's likely Winnik's agent would no longer be interested in negotiating with the Sharks once he eventually struck out on the free agent market.
The main thing to keep in mind here is that there's no reason to be upset about the Sharks not re-signing Winnik solely because he was one of the main pieces in the Jamie McGinn trade. That's a sunk cost and, honestly, I'm still not convinced trading McGinn and two undrafted prospects, talented as Michael Sgarbossa may be, for T.J. Galiardi is the reverse-Thornton a chunk of the fanbase claims it to be. Grounds for legitimate concern in light of Winnik's move to the O.C. (don't call it that) are that the Sharks may believe Burish is the better player without a lot of evidence to support that or that the organization believed signing both players was unnecessary, although we most definitely don't have the whole story here.
As long as Doug Wilson's biggest blunder this off-season is picking one third-liner over another and not, say, trading a premier two-way forward for the right to pay a declining, one-dimensional winger $47 million over the next 6 seasons, it's probably nothing worth losing sleep over.