2011 Free Agent Targets: Jan Hejda

There's no doubt the San Jose Sharks got their number two defenseman when they acquired Brent Burns at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. There's no doubt that they will be looking for forward depth when free agency begins on Friday. There's no doubt that the organization thinks highly of Justin Braun and believes that his skill set could pay off dividends as the sixth defenseman on the blueline next season.

And yet, there's no doubt that Jan Hejda could make the San Jose Sharks blueline one of the most formidable units across the National Hockey League.

Much like Eric Belanger, Hejda isn't a player who has the benefit of being a household name around the League. He played overseas in the Extraliga and KHL for the majority of his career, making his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 at the age of twenty seven. After finishing the year in Edmonton, Hejda went to Columbus where the organization's dismal record of one playoff appearance in franchise history (the series ended in a sweep at the hands of Detroit) managed to suppress any attention from the media. Coupled with the fact that he doesn't score many points and you have a recipe for obscurity, a life devoid from the bright lights of fame.

Avoiding bright lights is in Hejda's nature of course, and for good reason. A defensive defenseman by trade, Hejda's quality of competition and zone start numbers regularly place him at the top of Columbus' depth chart in regards to difficulty. He is a cornerstone on the penalty kill (2:50 per game last season) and led the Jackets in even strength ice time (18:04 per game).

Furthermore, Hejda's brand of physicality and his ability to block shots would add even more tangible value for the Sharks-- he finished 28th amongst NHL defenseman in hits last year with 152, and ended up with 158 blocked shots as well (good for 16th in the League). These numbers aren't a one year anomaly. They are a career-long trend.

However, it should be cautioned that Hejda's best seasons came two years earlier in his career. From 2007 to 2009 he was an absolute monster on the blueline for Columbus, but the last two years have produced results that may indicate his skill set is on the decline. How much of that can be attributed to the continued struggles of the Blue Jackets versus the eventual decrease in effectiveness of a player over the age of 30 is up for debate. In my eyes it is probably a little of both.

With the amount of talent he would be surrounded with in San Jose however, there is an excellent opportunity for Hejda to focus on exactly what makes him so great-- defensive zone play. He would provide a stellar foil to the increasingly offensive nature of the San Jose Sharks blueline, as players like Dan Boyle, Brent Burns, Jason Demers, and Justin Braun would be able to carry the play in the offensive zone. With Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic standing in as the only pure "shutdown" guys on the Sharks backend, Hejda rounds out the roster in a very impressive way.

Signing Hejda, who is more than comfortable with playing top four minutes, probably won't be Doug Wilson's biggest priority on July 1st. But it's still a piece to the puzzle that would make the team a whole lot better from a depth and role-balance standpoint:




Braun (healthy scratch)

Three lefties, three righties, an insane balance of offensive electricity and defensive reliability.

Acquiring Hejda (or a different defensive defenseman in this mold like Shane O'Brien, Paul Mara, Andy Greene, or Scott Hannan) would give the Sharks something they haven't had during the course of franchise history.

One of the best bluelines in the entire NHL.

Contract: Two year deal worth $2.5 MM per.

Role: Top four defenseman who will contribute heavily on the penalty kill.