Throughout Doug Wilson's tenure as general manager, the Sharks have been proactive at inking key players set to enter unrestricted free agency long before they hit the open market. 27-year-old defenseman Justin Braun was slated to become a UFA next July but he and the Sharks have reportedly come to terms on a five-year, $19 million contract extension that will keep him in San Jose through 2020.
Especially with an escalating salary cap, it's hard to describe a deal that carries a $3.8 million annual cap hit for a player who was second on the team in average ice time (and posted excellent results in those minutes) as anything other than a steal for the Sharks. Since Braun entered the league in 2010, only 19 defensemen have posted better possession numbers and Braun has seemingly improved on a yearly basis, with particularly noticeable improvements in his skating ability this past season. Hell, Braun made Brad Stuart look like a semi-competent top-four option down the stretch and that alone is worth far more than $3.8 million a year.
It's likely Marc-Edouard Vlasic's $4.25 million/year deal sets something of an upper limit in contract negotiations for Sharks defensemen, a case of great contracts begetting more great contracts. Like Vlasic, Braun probably won't ever be a dominant scorer from the back end but he has developed into an excellent skater and puck-mover capable of anchoring a second pairing that can tilt the ice in the Sharks' favor. Particularly when compared to UFA contracts doled out to demonstrably inferior "defensive" defensemen like Dan Girardi, it's clear that San Jose is getting a terrific deal here.
Some of the more advanced numbers on Braun from last season were very encouraging as well. Braun exited the defensive zone with possession of the puck on 26.6% of his attempts to, second-best on the Sharks blueline behind Dan Boyle. He also broke up 14.4% of the opposing rushes he faced at the defensive blueline, allowing opponents to carry the puck into the zone on his side of the ice just 56.5% of the time, both of which ranked second on the Sharks behind Vlasic.