When we examined the Sharks' roster situation heading into 2015-16 last week, their most glaring needs were obvious and they've been obvious for some time. San Jose needed a starting goalie, which it addressed yesterday by acquiring Martin Jones and signing him to a 3-year, $9 million contract. The Sharks also need help on the blueline which they're well-equipped to find when free agency opens this morning.
But as much as the Sharks' main issues in their first non-playoff season in a decade stemmed from being a decidedly bottom-half defensive team, this was also a club that finished 23rd in the league in 5-on-5 scoring. Some of that can be corrected by adding another defenseman or two who can catalyze the attack from the back end. Some of that will correct itself assuming forwards like Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto have bounceback seasons offensively. But given how mightily they struggled to generate even-strength offense and the possibility that players like Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson will endure similar sophomore slumps to those suffered by Hertl and Nieto this past year, the Sharks would be wise to explore possible upgrades to their forward corps.
Unfortunately, they're unlikely to find many via free agency. Or, more accurately, they're unlikely to find forward help among the players who were initially scheduled to become free agents. An influx of scoring-line wingers to the market via buyout this week could change that in a hurry. Yesterday Montreal bought out P.A. Parenteau, Carolina bought out Alexander Semin and Florida bought out Brad Boyes, any one of whom could be a solid low-cost fit on either of the Sharks' top two lines.
We'll start with the first, which saw Joes Thornton and Pavelski team up with Melker Karlsson on most nights during the season's second half on what was easily the team's most consistent and productive unit throughout the year. An undrafted free agent signing, Karlsson came out of nowhere to have a pleasantly surprising rookie season but there are some significant caveats there. The biggest is that he carried a near-12% 5-on-5 shooting percentage, something we absolutely shouldn't expect him to repeat. This team has read too much into a shooting percentage tear by an otherwise mediocre player before (see: Sheppard, James) and can't afford to repeat that mistake. The other is that a traffic cone would probably be good for 15 goals on a line with Thornton and Pavelski but that doesn't mean the Sharks should pencil one into their top line.
Karlsson's far better than a traffic cone, and will continue to be even when his shooting percentage regresses, as he was effective playing the role of that line's primary forechecker. But there are more goals that can be squeezed out of that lineup spot; by putting their two most talented eggs in the same basket in playing Thornton and Pavelski together, the Sharks need as much offense out of that line as possible. Boyes, who actually made his NHL debut with the Sharks back in 2004, would be a nice fit in Karlsson's spot as a right-handed shot who's averaged 18 goals per 82 games over the past three seasons playing for an offensively inept Panthers club. He can replicate Karlsson's defensive value while being a better bet to make the most out of playing with Thornton and Pavelski. He's also money in the shootout. On a one-year deal for around $2 million, Boyes would give the Sharks a true scoring winger on the top line and would allow Karlsson to excel in the bottom-six role he's better suited for.
Parenteau is the most intriguing of the names to recently become available. Despite coming off a career-worst season, Parenteau has still impacted puck possession at the level of a high-end second liner over the past three years combined and has scored at the rate of a below-average first liner during that span. In fact, since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2010, Parenteau's 1.84 points per 60 5-on-5 minutes average is similar to that of Pavelski, Alex Ovechkin and Zach Parise. He's of little use on the power play but Parenteau can probably still create offense like a legitimate top-six forward at evens, despite his underwhelming 2014-15 campaign. A crafty, playmaking winger, Parenteau likely fits best as the F2 on a line with Marleau and Logan Couture, allowing Hertl to slide up to play with the Joes or down to the third line with Tierney and Tommy Wingels while Nieto moves to the penthouse (the Sharks controlled a full two-thirds of possession when that trio was on the ice last season). Like Boyes, a cheap one-year deal should be attainable for Parenteau and, also like Boyes, he's a shootout monster as well.
Semin, the target of a massive $14 million buyout by the Hurricanes, is a polarizing player dogged by accusations of laziness and coming off a terrible season. He's almost certainly not a player on Doug Wilson's radar and most expect him to land with countryman Evgeni Malkin and Jim Rutherford, the GM who initially signed him to the deal he was bought out of by Carolina, in Pittsburgh. Still, he'd be an intriguing option on either the Joes' wing or with Marleau and Couture assuming his dismal 2014-15 didn't signal the complete loss of his fastball. Semin is only two years removed from scoring 44 points in 44 games during the lockout year and his reputation for being a bad defensive player is completely unearned.
With the trade of their 2016 1st rounder to Boston, the Sharks are back in win now mode and need to go all in to make the playoffs. In order to do that, they can't build an offense around hoping Karlsson can shoot the lights out again or an unproven commodity like Joonas Donskoi or Nikolay Goldobin can come in and be a difference-maker right away. It's entirely possible all of those things happen but, in case none of them do, the Sharks need some modicum of insurance up front. Taking a chance on an undervalued player discarded by his team this week might be the most cost-effective way to do that.