The San Jose Sharks have signed pending unrestricted free agents Alex Stalock and Mike Brown to two-year contracts. Stalock's contract is worth a total of $3.2 million, with $1.5 million in salary due to him next season and $1.7 million the following year. Brown's is for $2.4 million, with $1.15 million owed to him in 2014-15 and $1.25 in 2015-16.
After sustaining a potentially career-ending injury in early 2011, Stalock managed an improbable comeback and established himself as the big club's backup goaltender during last September's training camp. He posted a sterling .932 save percentage (.934 at even-strength) in 24 games this past season and at times challenged Antti Niemi for the starting job. He'll likely have a chance to extend that challenge this coming season as the organization's faith in Niemi has wavered a bit, as evidenced by Todd McLellan starting Stalock in Game 6 of the team's first-round playoff series against Los Angeles.
Signing Stalock was essentially a foregone conclusion and makes a ton of sense. Signing Mike Brown, let alone to a multi-year deal with a $1.2 million annual cap hit, isn't just inexplicable, it's flat-out negligent. Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth-round pick early last season, Brown is one of the worst regular players in the NHL and certainly wouldn't have a job in the league if GMs didn't continue to overvalue antiquated concepts like "grit" and facepunching over actual hockey skill. A grand total of five NHL forwards (among the 368 who qualify) have posted a lower on-ice even-strength shot differential over the past six seasons than Brown; two of them are now retired and another is currently suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. That guy and the retired Jay Pandolfo are the only forwards who have averaged fewer points per minute at even-strength than Brown over the same span. Brown is essentially a zero-dimensional player: horrendous defensively and even worse on offense.
Sure, Brown tries hard and is a great guy in the room; I'm not disputing any of that but his on-ice impact is extremely negative and, at the end of the day, it's the stuff that happens on the ice that determines the outcome of hockey games. Great teams don't sign players like Brown to multi-year contracts worth in excess of $1 million annually, especially not when they already have an AHL-caliber forward pulling down a bloated salary in Adam Burish. You'd think the Sharks would have learned from that disaster of a contract but apparently they haven't. The Kings long ago ditched players like Kevin Westgarth and didn't use the likes of Jordan Nolan during their Cup run this spring. The Rangers, who they met in the Final, got significant mileage out of their fourth line all season and playoffs long. There was a shift in overtime of Game 2 when New York's fourth line pinned Anze Kopitar in his own zone for an entire shift; good luck ever getting that out of a fourth line that features Brown and Burish. Keeping Todd McLellan on as coach was probably the right decision but Doug Wilson needed to accompany that move with getting rid of McLellan's favorite crutches like Brown, who he continually used in the playoffs over clearly superior options like Tyler Kennedy and Marty Havlat. Instead this move makes it clear that Wilson agrees playing Brown was the correct decision. A fourth-liner may not make or break a team but moves at the margins matter (how often did the Sharks have to abuse LTIR last season to remain cap-compliant?) and this signing is yet another data point suggesting Sharks management isn't very good at identifying championship-caliber depth players.