ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 10: Jason Arnott #44 of the St. Louis Blues looks to pass the puck against the Calgary Flames at the Scottrade Center on October 10, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Blues beat the flames 5-2. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
This summer's Shane Doan sweepstakes has been hockey's answer to The Neverending Story (Lionel Hutz's false advertising lawsuit against which is, as far as I know, still pending) with Doan visiting just about every North American city that has, ever has had or ever will have a professional hockey team while waiting for the Phoenix Coyotes' interminable ownership fiasco to clear up. It predictably hasn't and Doan has yet to pick a team as a result. It's possible the Sharks are still in the mix--they almost certainly were at one point but the latest word from beat writer extraordinaire David Pollak is that Doan's agent Terry Bross has stopped responding to e-mails.
In other words, it's time to move on. San Jose still needs to shore up their bottom six before training camp opens, something signing Doan would have (and technically still could) accomplished by displacing one of the Sharks' current top six forwards. But another intriguing option who could fit snugly into the Sharks' third line remains on the free agent market in 37-year-old center Jason Arnott. Arnott is no longer the imposing power forward he once was during his days with New Jersey and Dallas but he can still provide scoring punch in a depth role. It's also no secret that Michal Handzus was a detriment to the team as their third-line center last season and that it's probably not a good bet to make that recovering from his hip injury will lead to a substantial improvement in results. With Handzus' mid-season replacement Dominic Moore unlikely to return, Arnott would be a definite upgrade and probably cheaply available.
What may come as a surprise to some is that Arnott remains a fairly productive player, at least in the goal-scoring department, despite the fact that he'll turn 38 in the scheduled regular season's first full week. In fact, since 2009, Arnott has averaged 21 goals per 82 games played. How many goals per 82 has Doan averaged over that span? 21. That's not to suggest Doan and Arnott are comparable players at this stage of their respective careers. Doan has been able to stay in the lineup at a greater clip, he's registered higher point totals on the whole and his decline in goal-scoring (he averaged 30 goals per 82 over the five seasons prior) has been primarily driven by a dip in shooting percentage, which could be bad luck or a real age-related effect. The big difference between the two players the last few years has been the way they've been used by their respective coaching staffs. Doan has been playing reasonably tough minutes at even-strength while Arnott was given a particularly soft situation to exploit by Ken Hitchcock last year on the Blues, who had the David Backes and Patrick Berglund lines to pit against opposing scorers.
But that shouldn't be a turn-off to the Sharks who can provide Arnott those minutes. Put him between T.J. Galiardi and Tommy Wingels and you have a sheltered scoring line that could plausibly chip in 35-40 goals between them while not giving much back at the other end of the ice. That could also help the team get more value out of the final year of Handzus' contract as the coaching staff could play him between Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish for an expensive fourth line, but one they could get quite a bit of defensive-zone mileage out of. In addition to his even-strength play, Arnott could also provide value on the power play where he chipped in 14 points for St. Louis last year. Should the Sharks continue to deploy a first unit that consists of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle, they'll need someone to center Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat on the second unit and Arnott's a much better option than either Handzus or Wingels.
In September 2007, Doug Wilson signed a 37-year-old Jeremy Roenick to provide sheltered scoring and leadership and, at least for one season, it was a definite success. I think Arnott can have a similar impact to what Roenick had in the 07-08 season, contributing somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 goals while holding his own against opposing bottom-six forwards during 5v5 play. If Arnott is willing to play in San Jose, signing him to a one-year deal would be a risk-free move for the Sharks that could pay some serious dividends.