After leaving two separate playoff games prior to the second period this spring, many believed Marty Havlat had played his final game in a teal sweater. But a speedy recovery from offseason pelvic floor reconstruction surgery had the winger back in the Sharks lineup far sooner than anyone could have reasonably expected. That was three weeks ago and, in the nine games since his return, Havlat has dropped like a stone from the first line to the third to the press box before being deployed in a fourth-line capacity Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
Naturally, his performance so far this season has only fueled the flames of fan (and, perhaps, organizational) discontent regarding the oft-injured Czech forward and his contract, which carries a $5 million cap hit this season and next. So it isn't entirely surprising that The Ottawa Sun reported last night that the Sharks have discussed a potential Havlat trade with both the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers:
According to a source, Murray has talked to the San Jose Sharks about acquiring right winger Martin Havlat. The former Senator recently returned from a pelvis injury and was playing on the team's third line until Friday, when coach Todd McLellan made him a healthy scratch.
The Sharks have also been asked about Havlat by the New York Rangers, said the source, but GM Doug Wilson is not yet ready to give up on the 32-year old Czech, who has a goal and an assist in eight games this season.
On its face, the rumor seems to make sense. Ottawa, pegged by many as a Cup contender prior to the season, is essentially a one-line team at the quarter mark with an effective trio of Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan doing its best to counteract the deficiencies of what has been an awful second line featuring Jason Spezza, former Shark Milan Michalek and a revolving door of right wings. Havlat, if healthy, would be an upgrade over Cory Conacher and, as a former Senator, could remind a fanbase that doesn't exactly turn out in droves of the team's former glory.
But there's also the financial aspect to consider. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has been reticent to open up the checkbook lately, a move that in part cost the team face of the franchise Daniel Alfredsson in free agency this summer. The final year of Havlat's contract costs $6 million in real dollars despite a $5 million cap hit, which is generally the type of contract teams uninterested in spending to the cap ceiling balk at. If the Senators acquire Havlat, the Sharks would likely have to partially foot the bill or take back a comparable amount of salary.
Manhattan seems like an even less sensible destination for Havlat, given that the team is stocked with top-nine wingers ranging from Rick Nash (who returns to the lineup tonight) to Ryan Callahan to Carl Hagelin to Chris Kreider to Benoit Pouliot to Mats Zuccarello; it's hard to imagine Havlat slotting in any higher than the Rangers' third line on a consistent basis, which would probably be a less-than-wise way of depleting the club's remaining cap space. I'd guess that Glen Sather's interest in Havlat ended when Nash's stint on injured reserve did.
Ultimately, I still think the Sharks' best chance at squeezing some value out of Havlat's contract is by putting him in a spot where he has a chance to succeed. And it's abundantly clear that spot is the wing opposite Patrick Marleau on Logan Couture's line. Since the start of the shortened 2012-13 season, the Sharks have earned 56.2% of the shot attempts and scored 61.5% of the goals when those three share the ice at even-strength, despite them frequently being hard-matched against opposing top lines. Tyler Kennedy and James Sheppard are useful players but neither has the skill to merit a full-time position on what Todd McLellan uses as his top line during five-on-five play. Havlat does and while his return from offseason surgery has been unceremonious to say the least, the best of his eight games back were unsurprisingly the ones he spent on the Couture line. He deserves another look there, and if he can get back to being as effective in that role as he was down the stretch last season, he's a better player than anyone the Sharks could reasonably hope to trade him for.