Five free agents the Sharks should grab from the bargain bin

Ezra Shaw

With free agency opening in an hour and the Sharks having limited cap space, we look at five players potentially available on the cheap.

Unless it's to re-sign their own players, the Sharks have never been terribly active in the free agent market during the Doug Wilson era and I wouldn't expect that to change when the NHL's free agency period opens this morning. As it stands, the Sharks have about $2.6 million in available cap space, all of which will almost certainly be apportioned to Tyler Kennedy and a backup goaltender. They should be able to create a bit more room to maneuver by receiving temporary long-term injury reserve relief from Martin Havlat and moving the $1.175 million cap hit on Matt Tennyson's two-way deal to the minors. Still, there isn't a lot of leeway here for the Sharks to make a substantial splash.

If there was a significant indication that Havlat was slated to spend the season on long-term injury reserve, the player I'd love to see the Sharks target with the resulting cap space would be Clarke MacArthur, a two-way winger who would slot in nicely alongside Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture and, at 28, isn't the type of free agent a team should necessarily be averse to handing a four- or five-year contract. Unfortunately, he's likely to come in at around a $3.5-4 million cap hit, making him unfeasible in teal unless Havlat is expected to spend the year on the shelf. So keeping the Sharks' cap restraints in mind, here are five free agent options who should be available on the cheap.


Viktor Stalberg

#25 / Right Wing / Chicago Blackhawks

6-3

209

Jan 17, 1986


Season GP Ovr TOI G/82 A/82 5v5 TOI OZS% Fenwick% Corsi Rel 5v5 P/60 Usage Chart
2012-13 47 14.1 16 24 11.6 63.9% 55.5% 3.2 2.10 Link
2011-12 79 14.1 23 22 13.3 63.6% 56.6% 11.8 2.34 Link
2010-11 77 10.7 13 13 10.4 60.3% 58.7% 11.0 1.65 Link

Okay, I'm already cheating. Stalberg likely won't be a bargain in the strictest sense but he certainly projects to be cheaper to sign than he would have been as an unrestricted free agent even a year ago. A unique package of size, speed and play-driving ability, Stalberg fell a bit out of favor with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the latter half of the regular season and into the playoffs, reportedly due to a dispute with head coach Joel Quenneville regarding power play time. While Stalberg's goal and assist totals don't necessarily jump off the page, an important bit of context is that the Swedish winger has averaged just 13 minutes a game over his past three seasons in Chicago yet still managed to produce at about a half-point per game pace in that span. Since he arrived in Chicago in 2010, only fifty forwards in the NHL have scored more even-strength points per sixty minutes than Stalberg.

It's salivating to imagine what he could accomplish with more ice time and better linemates than the Andrew Shaws and Bryan Bickells of the league. Stalberg routinely manages to catch defensemen off-guard while barreling down the right wing and would be a perfect fit on San Jose's de facto top line with Marleau and Couture. He doesn't have a ton of experience playing the tough minutes that unit will be assigned but he would add much-needed variety to their neutral zone play and has enough passing ability to help generate scoring chances for those two forwards. If he's available for something similar to the 3-year, $6 million deal the Sharks inked Raffi Torres to previously in the offseason, he's definitely a player the team should figure out a way to accommodate. Some general manager is going to give David Clarkson three times that cap hit to score at a lesser rate.


Kyle Wellwood

#13 / Right Wing / Winnipeg Jets

5-10

181

May 16, 1983


Season GP Ovr TOI G/82 A/82 5v5 TOI OZS% Fenwick% Corsi Rel 5v5 P/60 Usage Chart
2012-13 39 13.0 13 19 12.0 48.0% 52.0% 3.0 1.67 Link
2011-12 77 15.0 19 31 12.7 60.5% 56.1% 15.8 2.15 Link
2010-11 35 13.7 12 19 10.4 51.3% 61.4% 18.5 1.55 Link

If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with both the perception and the play of Kyle Wellwood and how those two things rarely align. Wellwood is supposedly soft, undersized, overweight, and apathetic. He also happens to be a very effective hockey player, which should really be the most important factor in gauging whether he's worth offering a contract. The biggest plus with Wellwood is obviously that he's played for the Sharks before, over a 35-game stretch at the end of the 2010-11 regular season during which the team enjoyed a ton of success, a good deal of it thanks to Wellwood's insta-chemistry with Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell.

Seeing as the T.J. Galiardi trade strongly suggests San Jose is penciling in rookie Tomas Hertl alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns and Pavelski is likely to center Torres and Kennedy on the third line, the biggest question the Sharks need to answer at forward it that of who plays with Marleau and Couture. The current answer would appear to be Tommy Wingels, who was reasonably effective during a brief stint in that role this past season, but Wellwood's puck skills and playmaking ability make him, if not a natural fit, a superior option for that slot. He's also coming off a one-year, $1.6 million contract so he's likely to be cheap enough that, even if he does flame out on the top line, he'd still have value as a third-line winger flanking a center in Pavelski who we know he can thrive with. Also, Scott Gomez's presumed departure leaves a hole at center on the second unit power play and Wellwood has the requisite experience to fill in nicely there. There are some better options to consider but, ultimately, the Sharks could do a hell of a lot worse than bringing Wellwood back.


Benoit Pouliot

#67 / Left Wing / Tampa Bay Lightning

6-3

199

Sep 29, 1986


Season GP Ovr TOI G/82 A/82 5v5 TOI OZS% Fenwick% Corsi Rel 5v5 P/60 Usage Chart
2012-13 34 13.2 19 29 11.4 49.2% 50.8% 8.6 2.49 Link
2011-12 74 12.2 18 18 11.0 57.7% 53.7% 13.9 2.07 Link
2010-11 79 11.5 14 18 10.6 51.6% 55.4% 10.5 2.08 Link

In the mold of guys like Nikolay Zherdev and Wojtek Wolski, Benoit Pouliot is one of those players who does nothing but produce offense and drive play wherever he goes yet still manages to wear out his welcome on every team he plays for. He's done it again; despite scoring at a 48-point pace in limited minutes on a bad Lightning team, Tampa Bay opted not to tender Pouliot a qualifying offer earlier this week, making him an unrestricted free agent come 9AM. Pouliot has been a fantastic possession player relative to his teammates in each of the past three seasons (playing on three different teams, I might add) and has coupled that with an even-strength scoring rate that's downright elite. Remember how Stalberg ranked 51st in even-strength points per 60 minutes since 2010? Pouliot's 35th on the same list and 26th in goals.

Regardless of Pouliot's status as a draft bust and apparent inability to stick with any given NHL team, those numbers should be awfully enticing to a Sharks club that was bereft of even-strength offense this year. Pouliot is also still just 26 years of age; if he were to make an impact in San Jose (and it's hard to imagine him not doing so if he's given minutes with Marleau and Couture), it's possible he could represent a piece of the long-term puzzle, at least as far as scoring depth goes.


Ian White

#18 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings

5-10

191

Jun 04, 1984


Season GP Ovr TOI G/82 A/82 5v5 TOI OZS% Fenwick% Corsi Rel 5v5 P/60 Usage Chart
2012-13 25 19.6 7 7 16.3 55.2% 51.6% -0.2 0.44 Link
2011-12 77 23.0 7 27 18.1 57.7% 55.9% 5.7 0.90 Link
2010-11 78 20.0 4 23 16.0 49.4% 55.4% 0.4 0.77 Link

Speaking of players who had successful runs in teal at the end of the 2010-11 season, defenseman Ian White is coming off a forgettable year in Detroit where he found himself locked in Mike Babcock's doghouse with no escape. After a terrific debut season with the Red Wings, thanks in no small part to being paired with Nicklas Lidstrom, White drew into the Wings lineup just 25 times this season and wasn't dressed for a single playoff game. He'll be looking to re-establish himself as the top-four defenseman he almost certainly still is and it isn't crazy to speculate he might be interested in signing a discounted one-year deal with a team he's familiar with in order to accomplish that.

While the Sharks' biggest need is up front, the move of Brent Burns to forward means they aren't totally set on the blueline either. Justin Braun was an impressive half of the team's shutdown pairing down the stretch and throughout the postseason but it's fair to question whether he would be able to hold up in that role over a full year. Although he doesn't really have a history of drawing the toughest matchups, you could do a lot worse than White as a safety valve and his skating and puck-moving ability make him a perfect fit for that third pairing alongside Brad Stuart in the meantime.


Tom Gilbert

#77 / Defenseman / Minnesota Wild

6-3

206

Jan 10, 1983


Season GP Ovr TOI G/82 A/82 5v5 TOI OZS% Fenwick% Corsi Rel 5v5 P/60 Usage Chart
2012-13 43 19.3 6 19 15.6 51.7% 48.6% -2.4 0.71 Link
2011-12 67 24.0 4 23 17.6 47.8% 48.8% 3.3 0.71 Link
2010-11 79 24.5 6 21 17.4 51.4% 48.0% 6.0 0.61 Link

But the best Justin Braun failsafe available is undoubtedly Tom Gilbert. Bought out of the final year of his contract by the Minnesota Wild earlier this week, Gilbert remains one of the most underrated defensemen in the league and should at the very least cost less than the $4 million cap hit teams avoided en masse through the waiver wire, and likely even less than the $3 million in salary he was owed for the coming season. Gilbert played the toughest minutes on a terrible Oilers team before being traded to Minnesota in 2011-12 and still managed to stay above water in possession relative to his teammates. He draws criticism for not taking full advantage of his 6'3", 206-pound frame but Gilbert is a sound positional defender who can log heavy minutes effectively and move the puck at a very high rate. He would look great opposite Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the Sharks' shutdown pairing but, like White, would also be a fine fit with Stuart for as long as Braun can neutralize the toughs.

Ultimately, the Sharks are likely to remain quiet today, outside of perhaps making the Logan Couture extension official, which may not be the worst thing in the world considering their previous two forays into the free agent market produced Michal Handzus and Adam Burish. But if they are able to free up some cap space, any of these five names seem to make sense based on availability and team needs. Who would you like to see the Sharks sign today?

Glossary: GP = games played; Ovr TOI = average time on ice per game; G/82 = goals pro-rated to 82-game schedule; A/82 = assists pro-rated to 82-game schedule; 5v5 TOI = average 5v5 time on ice per game; OZS% = percentage of non-neutral shifts started in the offensive zone; Fenwick% = percentage of all shots and missed shots earned by a player's team with him on the ice 5v5; Corsi Rel = difference between a team's 5v5 shot differential with a player on the ice compared to off it; 5v5 P/60 = points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time

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