Wilson Eyes Trade Market as Day One of Free Agency comes to a close

With Antero Niittymaki being the lone acquisition on the first day of NHL free agency, General Manager Doug Wilson will likely turn towards the trade market in order to fill any outstanding holes he sees in his roster.

The lack of activity from the Sharks today, especially in terms of obtaining a defenseman who could come onto the top pairing, is somewhat of a concern considering it was an area of need Fear The Fin has highlighted over the course of the past six months. However, as we reported yesterday, a release on the team's webpage indicated that goaltending would be the main area of focus for San Jose on July 1st.

As it turns out, that assertion turned out to ring true.

"It happened pretty quick," Sharks acquistion Antero Niittymaki said over conference call. "It was the first phone call I got and that was pretty much it. I signed because when you get to be on one of the best teams in the league, you can't really pass that up."

Niittymaki is a thirty year old goaltender who posted a .909 SV% last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many will remember his brilliant run during the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, where he put the Finnish National Team on his back and led them to a silver medal.

"Once we made the decision on Nabokov we went into researching the style of play, the type of goalies that were having success in this League," Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson said. "Antero certainly jumped out at us for a number of reasons. He was the MVP of the playoffs when [his team] won the Calder Cup in 04-05, and we really liked his performance in the Olympics in 2006. We've liked him ever since that point."

Was there anyone else the Sharks pursued throughout the day?

"There were a couple other guys we were looking at. We felt there would be a supply of goalies in this market, but we also felt that we wanted to get the guy that we wanted, and we were quite proactive in that once we decided Antero was our guy."

Other notable goaltenders who Fear The Fin highlighted as quality targets were Dan Ellis and Chris Mason. Ellis received a two year deal worth $1.5MM a year with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Mason signed a two year deal worth $1.85MM a year with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Inconsistency has been a hallmark of Niittymaki's career, with the Finnish goaltender displaying periods of utter brilliance that are followed by stretches where he has trouble stopping the puck. He's not the bonafide starter that Evgeni Nabokov was for San Jose, and will likely compete year round for the starting role with Thomas Greiss.

"We have Alex Stalock, who also had a very good year in Worcester last year, and will be coming into camp to compete," Wilson said. "There's going to be a lot of competition, and it will be decided on the ice."

Wilson also indicated that the trade market will be the most likely avenue for San Jose to upgrade their team, citing the free agent period as one where teams tend to overpay throughout the year.

"You're taking a look at pieces that fit," Wilson said. "We've actually been very active in the in free agent market in many ways, re-signing our own players such as Marleau, Pavelski, Nichol et cetera. There's many opportunities out there as we monitor what's going on in the market."

"Free agent frenzy-- they call it that for a reason. We're also exploring the trade discussions, and that's probably where we will spend most of our attention during the next while."

If the trade market is indeed where the Sharks will focus most of their attention, the re-signing of Niclas Wallin does make more sense on a broad level. Doug Wilson is known for his constant fleecing of opposing General Managers in this area, with Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle all coming over via lateral movements.

So how does that tie in to Wallin? With most estimates pegging him in the four to five role next year in San Jose, Douglas Murray has become an expendable piece for the Sharks. It is possible that Wallin was signed in order to give Wilson another chip to play with when negotiating with opposing teams.

Ryane Clowe has been highlighted by Fear The Fin as the most likely casualty, due to his salary cap hit and inconsistent offensive output.

Although the top-tier defenseman have been gobbled up, there still remains some solid middle pairing players that San Jose could pursue in the coming days. Pavel Kubina and Willie Mitchell are both without contracts, and were highlighted earlier on Fear The Fin as belonging to the top ten UFA's on the market. Whether or not the price is right will be an ongoing debate of course, but there is still some value left on the market for a team who desperately requires players of this caliber.

Denis Grebeshkov, Brian Pothier, Joe Corvo, Mike Mottau, Brian Pothier, Shane Morrisson, and Carlo Coliacovo are also players who could find a fit in San Jose.

The organization will have $6.965MM to work with, with Devin Setoguchi and two other forwards needing to be re-signed.

"It's a long way before the season starts," Wilson said.

Taking the current state of San Jose's blueline into consideration, that has to be the most positive sign coming out of the Sharks camp today.

Go Sharks.