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NHL Free Agency: Independence Day Weekend

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The Fourth of July has come and gone without much fuss for the Sharks in the free agent market. A few Sharks have moved on, several San Jose rivals in the Pacific Division appear to have gotten better while the Sharks have only made some small moves.

Along with signing free agents John Scott and Taylor Fedun, the Sharks made qualifying offers to three of their RFAs. Jason Demers has filed for arbitration, Tommy Wingels has been signed to a three year contract and there is no news yet on James Sheppard.

The announcement that the NHLPA and the NHL agreed on a lower than expected salary cap for the upcoming season has caused some consternation around the league. The cap is set at $69 million while some had anticipated it would be over $72 million.

Only Philadelphia and Chicago find themselves over the cap right now. For the Flyers, this is a mere technicality. Chris Pronger is still on their roster until they can put him back on LTIR, and removing his salary will push them back below the cap. They still do not have a lot of room to work with, but like the Sharks they are not in “win-now” mode.

Chicago is a couple million above the cap, but they have 23 players on their roster so they are only a move or two away from the line. Their roster is pretty solid, and with the addition of Brad Richards they do not have a lot of work to do.

Dallas won the Spezza trade sweepstakes, giving up several assets including Alex Chiasson, a promising young forward. In other notable moves, they also signed goalie Anders Lindback, Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves. The Stars have no present plans to do more.

Closer to home, Los Angeles and Anaheim are safe under the cap after making some key additions. Los Angeles resigned Marian Gaborik, a late season acquisition who worked out very well for the Kings on their run to the Stanley Cup. They are just under the cap now but they appear set.

Anaheim added Ryan Kesler, one of the bigger names available this Summer. They also lost Teemu Selanne to retirement. You can’t compare Kesler to Hall of Fame bound Selanne, but he is a good addition, so the Ducks could be considered status quo. That status was pretty good last season. On top of that, the Ducks have over $13 million left in space, and 22 on the roster.

In terms of cap space, the Sharks are in a good position. They have plummeted to 21st on CapGeek’s list, a list you want to be at the bottom of… if you plan to add players. Even after the Sharks sign Demers and Sheppard the team will have 23 on the roster and probably have a substantial sum left over. Before signing Wingels, the Sharks had almost $14 million to work with.

The loss of Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat could be significant if either or both of them plays well and healthy this upcoming season. But for San Jose’s purposes, they were often without one or the other last season, due to injury or coaching preferences. If the Sharks are roughly as good as they were last season, will it be enough to get them into the playoffs? Have their rivals improved so significantly? Marian Gaborik is arguably the biggest difference for the California teams. The Kings might have a better regular season than last.

Ex-Shark Notes:

John McCarthy, never quite a regular in the Sharks lineup, has signed a one year two way contract with the St. Louis Blues.

Sena Acolatse, who never appeared in the San Jose lineup, has signed with the Calgary Flames.

Martin Havlat, after the Sharks used one of their compliance buyouts on the remainder of his contract, signed with the New Jersey Devils.

As has been widely announced, Dan Boyle signed with the New York Rangers for two years at $4.5 million. For those concerned that he and Brian Boyle might have a conflict of 22s, no need to worry. Brian has moved on to Tampa Bay.

Also in Tampa Bay now is Evgeni Nabokov, presumably to back up Ben Bishop in goal. The Lightning roster has a very young average age, so another veteran was probably on GM Steve Yzerman’s shopping list.

Thomas Greiss, last year of the Phoenix Coyotes, has signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Depending on the sort of year Marc-Andre Fleury is having, Greiss may get to start quite a few games, or at least play in several. It also seems a good place for goalies who like to face a lot of shots.

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