BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 12: Andrei Kostitsyn #46 of the Montreal Canadiens takes the puck from Gregory Campbell #11 of the Boston Bruins on January 12, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
With lockout talk dominating hockey discussion, we essentially haven't heard anything about free agents not named Shane Doan since late July. Some of that is due to CBA uncertainty and some of that is due to there not being very many attractive UFAs still available: the biggest names on the market are past-their-prime veterans like Jason Arnott, Daymond Langkow and Jason Blake. There is exactly one UFA forward under the age of 30 left who could realistically make an impact on an NHL team: Andrei Kostitsyn.
So why is he still unsigned? It's difficult to say for sure. Kostitsyn and fellow Predators forward Alexander Radulov were suspended by their club during the second round of the 2012 playoffs when they broke curfew the night before a game in Arizona. Kostitsyn's tenure with the Canadiens was marred by allegations he and his brother Sergei were linked to organized crime, although a probe revealed they were not guilty of any wrongdoing. And, finally, there have been some reports that he was fielding KHL offers.
It's impossible to tell to what extent each of those things is playing a factor in Kostitsyn having yet to sign a contract for the coming season but the one common thread is that none of them have anything to do with his on-ice play. Sure, there are some who contend he's inconsistent or enigmatic but those descriptors are so commonly used to criticize players of European descent, they hardly have meaning anymore. The facts are that Kostitsyn has averaged 23 goals and 47 points per 82 games since 2007 and would provide an instant injection of speed and transition offense to San Jose's lineup, bolstering their sub-par bottom six. Although he doesn't fill their hole at third-line center, the Sharks would be extremely wise to kick the tires on this guy, especially since it seems likely he'll sign for below market value.
Kostitsyn isn't the first-line forward the Canadiens probably thought they were getting when they made him the 10th overall selection of the greatest entry draft in modern NHL history. But the Sharks don't need a first-line forward, they need depth up front. If training camp were to begin as scheduled, players like James Sheppard, who hasn't appeared in an NHL game since before Inception was released in theaters; John McCarthy, who has looked perpetually overmatched playing soft minutes in his stints with the big club; and Frazer McLaren, who honestly serves no purpose on an NHL rink, would all have legitimate shots at securing an opening-night roster spot. That really shouldn't be the case on a team with Cup aspirations.
Instead, with the Belarussian winger in the mix, the Sharks would finally have the makings of a legitimate third line featuring T.J. Galiardi, Michal Handzus and Kostitsyn. The coaching staff could even take a small risk that might pay huge dividends by moving Tommy Wingels back to center between Kostitsyn and Galiardi, providing that line with easy minutes to exploit, while a trio of Handzus, Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins could be deployed overwhelmingly in the defensive zone. The point is there are a lot of ways to sensibly incorporate Kostitsyn into the lineup and that's without even discussing the likelihood that he would represent a perfect replacement
if when Martin Havlat winds up on IR.
Kostitsyn's skating ability, high-end puck skills and offensive creativity make him lethal in transition, something the Sharks sorely lack throughout their lineup. A YouTube highlight package is just about the worst way to judge a player but, as you can see, almost all of Kostitsyn's even-strength goals in 2010-11 came off the rush. The Sharks could use some variety in their offensive system and AK46 provides that in spades. Speaking of even-strength play, Kostitsyn could likely be productive 5-on-5 even in the limited minutes San Jose would be able to afford him as he scored 1.89 points per 60 even-strength minutes last season in what was a down year for him. In comparison, the only Sharks who scored at a higher rate in 2011-12 were Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Granted, Kostitsyn would rarely be playing with a center of Tomas Plekanec or David Legwand's calibre in the Sharks' bottom six but it's encouraging that his offense isn't solely a product of ice time. And while he isn't going to contend for the Selke anytime soon, Kostitsyn is far from a defensive liability, finishing with an even or better 5-on-5 shot differential relative to his teammates every season since 2007 save for 10-11, without the benefit of facing terrible competition or starting the vast majority of his shifts in the offensive zone.
While it might be intelligent to hold off on a move like this until a new collective bargaining agreement is inked, the Sharks should give some serious consideration to adding Andrei Kostitsyn to their lineup. It's certainly curious that no NHL team has bothered to take a flier on an established 20-goal scorer who's still just 27 but teams are often too averse to players with allegedly "bad attitudes" for their own good. The Kings won the Cup in part because Dean Lombardi wasn't afraid to steal players the media had labeled as having off-ice issues or destroying locker rooms. On-ice performance is what matters most and Kostitsyn would be a good fit for the Sharks, likely at an affordable price.