Free Agency 2.0: Who could the Sharks still add?

Doug Pensinger

Once a Memorandum of Understanding is signed by the NHL and PA (assuming that ever happens), trades and signings can resume without restriction. We look at remaining free agents who could help the Sharks.

With the NHLPA having officially voted in favor of ratifying the collective bargaining agreement, the only remaining impediment to this sordid lockout's conclusion is the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding between the league and players' association. Essentially, once the two sides' lawyers squeeze as many more billable hours out of this process as they can, the padlocks will be cut down and NHL hockey will legitimately be back. When that happens, it's predicted a frenetic and truncated silly season will be unleashed with several free agents, both restricted and un-, left to be signed. San Jose is definitely in the market for more forward depth but with injuries to Justin Braun and Jason Demers potentially set to keep those two out of action for the season's first week, they could do with an extra defenseman as well. Which of the available players should the Sharks target, if any?

Forwards

Ryan O'Reilly

We can dream, can't we? In reality, the most likely course of action here is that the Colorado Avalanche suck it up and sign their prized restricted free agent center. But O'Reilly remains in the KHL, where he signed a two-year contract with Magnitogorsk last year largely for negotiating leverage. The Sharks have nearly $5 million in cap space with which to tender him an offer sheet but it's doubtful Doug Wilson snatches the 21-year-old out of Greg Sherman's hands without a trade offer.

But first a little on O'Reilly and why the Sharks should be interested in the first place. After making the Avalanche out of training camp as an 18-year-old in 2009, O'Reilly has quickly blossomed into one of the best two-way centers in the NHL. Last season, facing the second-toughest quality of competition among Colorado skaters, O'Reilly finished second to top draft pick Gabriel Landeskog in on-ice shot differential and first among full-time Avs in 5v5 scoring per 60. He was also a key cog on one of the best penalty kills in the NHL, ended up with nearly 60 points overall and at just 21 years of age, presumably still has room to grow. He would be a perfect addition to a Sharks team that both needs help now and craves an infusion of young forward talent.

It's uncertain what Colorado would require in return for O'Reilly. The team needs defensemen but Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns are probably off limits. A deal could potentially be worked out around Dan Boyle but the Avalanche, who operate on an internal budget, might balk at Boyle's salary. Realistically, O'Reilly on the Sharks is a pipe dream (albeit a little less so than fellow unsigned RFA Jamie Benn coming to San Jose, which is why I didn't even bother including him here) but it sure would be nice to have him in teal.

Jason Arnott

I've been beating the Arnott drum since last summer and nothing has really changed in the interim. Well, except for the fact that he was spotted wearing a Dallas Stars practice sweater at the Stars' training facility in Texas earlier this week. Then again, as a former member of the team, he could have very well just made his offseason home there. If Arnott isn't scooped up by Dallas, he would likely represent a substantial upgrade over Michal Handzus as the Sharks' third-line center. He isn't the imposing power forward he was earlier in his career and he probably needs quite a bit of shelter in order to be effective. But when you're comparing him to a player in Handzus who hurts the team even in soft minutes, it's a no-brainer as to which one should be the preferred option.

Skating between T.J. Galiardi and Tommy Wingels on a depth scoring line that could exploit the easy situations granted to it by Joe Thornton and Logan Couture playing the toughs, Arnott could easily chip in seven or eight goals in a shortened season while keeping play in the right end of the ice. He would also give the Sharks a superior pivot for their second unit power play which, as things currently stand, will likely be centered by either Handzus or Wingels. Arnott had a ton of success playing on St. Louis' man-advantage unit last year and, on the whole, has averaged 21 goals per 82 games since 2009. He still has game left despite being 37 and could be a cheap upgrade for the Sharks if he's willing to sign in San Jose.

Mathieu Darche

Darche was actually previously a member of the Sharks organization, scoring 80 points in 76 games for Worcester during their inaugural season of 2006-07 as well as suiting up twice with San Jose that year. He's 36 now and has never come anywhere close to replicating the offensive numbers he posted in his AHL career. What he does provide is a skillset the Sharks sorely need: penalty killing. I'll let Andrew Berkshire of the excellent Canadiens blog Habs Eyes On The Prize explain:

Among Habs players with over 1.5 minutes played on the PK per game, Darche ranks first in scoring chance differential and third in Corsi. He drives the play up the ice effectively and generates more scoring chances for the team than any other player on the PK. His quality of competition on the PK is also second among forwards to Lars Eller. Looking through Darche's stats, it seems to me that if the decision comes down to him and Moen on who to keep next season, it should be Darche.

Montreal didn't end up keeping Darche but their loss could potentially be the Sharks' gain. Overall on the season, despite averaging 1:47 shorthanded per game with the Canadiens, Darche was on the ice for just six power play goals against...and four shorthanded goals for. That's an incredibly encouraging, if unsustainable, stat line that indicates the left winger could fit like a glove into what Todd McLellan has described as a PK unit that will attempt more defensive aggression. Darche is anything but an even-strength scorer although he appears to still have some use in that game state as scout Christopher Boucher, who tracks every puck-possession event in every Habs game, noted that Darche made 2.11 successful plays with the puck for every unsuccessful play he made at evens last year.

Darche would likely come in at well under a $1 million cap hit and would almost certainly provide more value as a member of the Sharks' fourth line than any of the forwards they're slated to call up for training camp, save for James Sheppard. There's really no downside to bringing him back.

Jason Blake

Hey, another old guy! Jason Blake might be turning 40 later this year and is assuredly never going to match his age in goals ever again but he's still a useful player in many respects. As Earl detailed extensively a year ago, as bad as the Ducks were in 2011-12, they were even worse during the stretch of the season Blake was out of commission for after having his wrist sliced open by Brent Burns' skate. Usually records like that are more the product of coincidence than a player's actual impact but there's no question Blake's ability to drive play was essential to an Anaheim team with shallow forward depth and poor possession ability outside their top line. Blake has been a plus player territorially relative to his teammates each of the past five seasons, albeit generally in protected minutes. I'm the least bullish on Blake out of all the forwards listed here but he might still be worth taking a flier on as a third-line winger.

Defensemen

Jim Vandermeer

As reported earlier this week, the Sharks are one of several teams who have had conversations with Jim Vandermeer. At least according to Jim Vandermeer they are. It's still unclear whether San Jose actually intends to bring back the winger/defenseman (you know you aren't very good when they can't even figure out what position you play), if they're simply kicking the tires on every available option or Vandermeer is texting reporters with less-than-true information to drive up his value. At any rate, there really isn't much of a sensible reason for the Sharks to sign him. In 25 games with San Jose last year, Vandermeer faced by far the weakest opposition of any of the Sharks' defensemen and still ended up with awful possession numbers relative to the rest of the club.

His previous seasons weren't much different, with an exception being the fact that Sharks goalies stopped 98.1% of the even-strength shots they faced with Vandermeer on the ice last year. That's clearly not something even remotely likely to happen again and the Sharks shouldn't make the mistake of thinking Vandermeer is a competent defenseman because of it. Even if San Jose is insistent on signing a free agent rather than going with either Matt Irwin or Matt Tennyson (or both) as an injury replacement for Jason Demers or Justin Braun, there are some better options out there than Vandermeer. Besides, can you imagine a third pairing of Vandermeer and Douglas Murray? They would never be able to leave the defensive zone.

Brett Clark

It's difficult to get a read on where Brett Clark is at this stage of his career. He looked to be in the midst of something of a resurgence following what was an excellent 2010-11 season for him, when he played very well in difficult minutes for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He followed that campaign up by disappointing across the board in 2011-12, however, and taking a closer look reveals that his 10-11 success may have had a lot more to do with young stud Victor Hedman than any type of renaissance for Clark.

Clark went from playing over 725 even-strength minutes alongside Hedman in 10-11 to just 153 in 11-12 after the Bolts acquired Eric Brewer at the 2011 deadline and minted him as Hedman's new partner. Clark's underlying numbers and offensive production fell off a cliff as a result as did, for whatever reason, his penalty killing ability despite him receiving a larger role in that situation during 11-12. In the 2010-11 season, no defenseman who averaged at least 1.2 shorthanded minutes a game was on the ice for fewer goals against per sixty minutes than Clark. That ballooned last season, although largely due to a sharp decrease in his on-ice SV%, which could indicate it was little more than randomness.

If none of this reads like a ringing endorsement of Brett Clark, you're not lost. It isn't necessarily supposed to. But he'll likely come cheap, has a recent track record as a competent defenseman given the right situation and could be a hidden gem on the penalty kill. I'll take that over Vandermeer any day.

Kent Huskins

These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along.

Chris Campoli

Campoli deserves commendation for his service to the NHLPA during the lockout, when by all accounts he largely spearheaded the union's negotiating effort alongside Donald Fehr and appeared to be very well-spoken and intelligent when discussing the process with the media. Unfortunately, his role in the PA will not be earning him any brownie points with league ownership, who can be a vindictive bunch. Now that the lockout is over and Campoli is left standing without a contract, it might not be all that likely he even receives an offer. The Sharks can capitalize on that lack of demand if they're so inclined.

While he's coming off an underwhelming season with a disappointing Montreal squad, Campoli did score 0.81 5v5 points per 60 minutes last year, which was more than the likes of what blueline juggernauts Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Campbell and Cam Fowler managed. He's a slick-skating, puck-moving defenseman who is prone to more than the occasional brainfart in his own end (exhibit A) but he could be a decent stop-gap option while the Sharks wait for Demers and Braun to heal.

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