UFA of The Day: Niclas Wallin
Niclas Wallin is a player who received a salary that was much higher than the market value many predicted for him. After being acquired by the Sharks during the 2010 Trade Deadline, the Sharks signed the Swedish defenseman to a one year $2.65 MM contract during the NHL Entry Draft, four days before the NHL Free Agency period began. Much like the two year $1.7 MM contract given to Kent Huskins in 2009, Wallin's contract seemed to indicate that Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson tends to overpay for his depth defenseman.
Which isn't to say Wallin does not have value of course. Like Huskins (who is also a pending UFA), Wallin is a reliable third pairing defenseman who gives you solid minutes against some of the League's lower forward groups. He was second on the team in hits during the postseason, amassed 41 blocked shots, and finished a +2 which was good for third on the backend behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Ian White respectively. After a difficult opening series against the Los Angeles Kings Wallin managed to put in an excellent effort against the Detroit Red Wings and did not stand out in any particular way against the Vancouver Canucks. Those are good traits for a defenseman of his role, and at a point in the season where salary and cap concerns become irrelevant, Wallin delivered what was expected of him.
This year however, expect Wilson to take a longer amount of time to decide whether or not to re-sign the 36 year old blueliner. Although the Sharks have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason, allocating similar dollars to Wallin would go a long way towards crimping that space. Especially when one considers the role Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan used in him this season.
In terms of advanced metrics Wallin's role this season was befitting of a player of his age and skill set, but his performance across the board was one that unfortunately came up short of what was expected of him. He was sixth on the blueline in relation to his quality of competition, had the worst +/- at five on five throughout the year, gave up 27.4 shots against per 60 minutes (second worst of the team), and took the most penalties per 60 minutes of ice time as well. Those aren't especially promising numbers for any type of defenseman on an NHL roster, especially one who was brought in to be a reliable defensive option on the bottom pairing.
Perhaps most concerning however is what many expected to be Wallin's bread and butter-- the penalty kill. During the regular season Wallin was McLellan's fifth most trusted option on the kill, seeing an average of 1:29 per night shorthanded. His results behind the play reinforced that notion, as Wallin gave up 7.86 GA/60, third worst on the team. During the playoffs Wallin's shorthanded ice time in relation his teammates dipped even further, putting him seventh on the team at the 1:47 TOI mark. Even Kent Huskins, who was injured on February 19th and did not play until game one of the Western Conference Finals on May 15th (a three month layoff), averaged more shorthanded ice time than Wallin during the postseason. The results were largely the same as the regular season, with Wallin once again posting the third worst GA/60 on the team.
Essentially, Wallin had a fairly disappointing season. Losing him to free agency would present a situation where the Sharks would have to bring in another defenseman who could play on the penalty kill, especially with Dan Boyle's minutes a concern, but that type of value can be procured quite easily from the free agent market.
Final Words: I know this doesn't mean much but Wallin was always a great interview in the locker room. He was thoughtful, provided detailed answers to questions despite a slight language barrier, and was always joking around with teammates and keeping things loose. For all intents and purposes he seemed like a great teammate, which is something that I'm sure the organization will consider when negotiating a contract. Furthermore, the Hamburgers meme is probably the funniest thing ever to happen to Fear The Fin, inspiring a barrage of high quality photoshops that I hope are shared with aplomb in the comments section.
All that being said, there is very little here that indicates Wallin will be receiving a contract offer this offseason, let alone one in the $2.0 MM+ range. As of today the Sharks have four legitimate NHL defenseman under contract-- Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers, and Douglas Murray. There is no real rush to shore up the backend with Justin Braun waiting in the wings, especially with an Ian White contract still in the negotiation process.
My expectation is Wallin will be kept in consideration throughout the offseason but is unlikely to be retained. If he is signed, expect it to come after July 1st when all other options have been considered, with compensation around the $1.25 MM range.