Editor’s Note: Over the next few days, we’re going to profile some of the available free agents that could fit in San Jose. First up: Martin Hanzal. So hot right now. Hanzal.
The Entry Draft has come and gone, and that means there’s only one more big deadline before we all settle in for the hunger. Sorry, I think the word I’m looking for there is summer. July 1st is fast approaching, and that means a lot of unrestricted free agents will be signing contracts that look terrible until they curiously disappear right before the worst part kicks in for some reason.
Any conversation about the Sharks’ possible needs and targets entering free agency have to be had with a number of assumptions made regarding two of the franchise’s key pillars of the last decade plus. Whether the Sharks re-sign cornerstones Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will have a huge impact on any moves come the first of July, but various sources have linked Thornton to as many as a dozen clubs, and it’s very possible that San Jose will have a 6’4’, 230 pound hole down the middle in the very near future.
Unless they go to work on Canada Day and sign a 6’6”, 226 pound, 30 year old peg to fill that hole. In regards to production, character, and legacy, it’s more than likely that no one will ever fill Big Joe’s shoes in San Jose, but Martin Hanzal provides a step in that direction for the immediate future.
Drafted 17th overall by the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2005, Hanzal broke into the NHL in 2007, after finishing a year in his hometown in the Czech Republic and a year playing for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. He put up 35 points in 72 games that year and has been a fixture on the Coyotes center ice ever since.
Until last year, that is. Hanzal was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline for a king’s ransom after scoring 26 points in 51 games in a disaster of a year for the desert dogs. Hanzal was great in Minnesota, but his 13 points in 20 games didn’t carry over into a playoff series in which Jake Allen was possessed by the ghost of Terry Sawchuk.
It’s possible that the price the Wild paid for Hanzal could affect his trade value, but in which direction is hard to guess. Wild owner Craig Leipold even famously said of the Hanzal trade, “In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” referring to the acquisition of Hanzal, Ryan White, and a fourth round pick for a first (a pick the Coyotes used to select Urho Vaakanainen on Friday), a second, a conditional pick, and prospect Grayson Downing.
The rumor mill is already abuzz with potential suitors for Hanzal ahead of the free agent frenzy, already linking him to Montreal, Nashville, the New York Islanders, Chicago, Ottawa, and Los Angeles. So, pretty much everywhere but here. However, of those teams, only Nashville and Montreal seem to be teams that will both be able to offer Hanzal both a competitive rate and a competitive team. Enter the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks have a little over $18 million in cap space entering next season, and even with new contracts for Patrick Marleau, Micheal Haley, Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen, and local hedge fund manager Barclay Goodrow, project to have a fair bit of cash to throw around at free agents. There’s no reason the Sharks can’t make Hanzal a competitive offer. Second, the Sharks have a former teammate of Hanzal’s in Mikkel Boedker, with whom Hanzal played for eight seasons in the desert.
Hanzal brings size down the middle (6’6”, 230 lbs), faceoff ability (56.3% over the past three seasons), positive possession numbers (50.44% Corsi for, +3.43% Corsi Rel), special teams experience, defensive responsibility, and fills what will be a desperate need for the Sharks should Thornton choose to ply his trade elsewhere. Hanzal, at second or even third line center, could alleviate that loss on the ice, if not in our hearts. Also, having a former teammate on hand could help the bizarre mismatch and subsequent disappointment that was Mikkel Boedker’s season.
Coming off a career season in which Hanzal scored 20 goals for the first time, he’s likely due a raise from his most recent cap hit of $3.1M, but even if that jumps up to four, the Sharks would still have room to sign a free agent defenseman if the front office is not yet sufficiently confident in the abilities of Dylan DeMelo or Tim Heed to shoulder the 6D role. Everybody gets overpaid on July 1st, and as a result, if the Sharks want a hot commodity on that day, they may have to reach a little deeper into their pockets than we’d like.
Unfortunately, Hanzal does have a bit of a history with injuries, which can linger in a player of his size. The 2009-10 season was the only one in which Hanzal played as many as 81 games, playing as few as 37 in 2014-15. The Sharks have a bit of a history with injury prone Czech forwards named Martin H, and this should factor into any offer they may make with Hanzal’s camp.
Hanzal also has developed a reputation for inconsistency, often being labelled a streaky scorer when healthy. At 30, it remains to be seen if Hanzal can improve his consistency, or if his proneness to injury can be attributed to bad habits or bad luck.
Hazarding a guess, the Sharks will probably primarily have to outbid Les Habitants De Montréal for Hanzal’s services, but if, for some unpredictable reason, the Sharks find themselves desperate for a middle six center who can win faceoffs, play in all situations, and put up points, I know a guy.
For a price.