From Fear The Fin: Back, meet corner

From the Sharks’ blog Fear the Fin:

You can argue against the signing of Scott Nichol based on his skill, age, injury history, whatever. Same for Huskins. You could even make the case that the Rob Blake deal was evidence of poor decision making by the Sharks, or that they overpaid for Clowe. But, like it or not, those are the moves that have been made so far this year. No matter how much we bitch and moan, nothing changes.

What’s interesting to me though, is the timing of these deals. I was certain that the Sharks would make a trade before any free agents were added to the club, but as of this morning, no personnel swaps have occured. I’ve talked before about how the Sharks’ cap situation effectively eliminates their bargaining power on the trade market, and it seems as if I was right in that regard.

With the signing of Nichol (1 year, $750,000), the Sharks have just under $900,000 left to sign two forwards (including Mitchell, see below), which is a straight impossibility. That number is without the almost inevitable signing of Thomas Greiss (as it’s really the only NHL job left for him), who made $725,000 last season and will make at least $750,000 next year. In addition, Torrey Mitchell still hasn’t signed, and he’ll probably looking for a contract in the $800K to $1MM range if he doesn’t accept the Sharks’ Qualifying Offer. Even if you think that Couture is ready for full NHL time, his deal pays him $875K annually, so there’s not much relief there either. With the NHL minimum salary for the 2009-2010 season set at $500,000, the Sharks need to find at least $1.5 MM somewhere in order to sign Torrey Mitchell and either bring up Couture or sign a decent free agent. While this is good news insofar as it makes a trade a certainty, it doesn’t do much to suggest that the Sharks will be any better this coming season.

Maybe that’s too much to ask for, since the Sharks did win the President’s Trophy in 2008-2009. However, after Doug Wilson all but guaranteed a new look for the team heading into next season, his strategy for the offseason has been interesting, to say the least. Yes, players weren’t brought back. Yes, some harsh words and strong talk were thrown around. Yes, he signed a few guys. But the drastic makeover that the fans expected hasn’t come yet, and the timing is way off.

Something will come though; a trade is going to have to be made. Cheechoo has been shopped, and offers have been made for Ehrhoff. However, as evidenced by the Chimera for Ehrhoff straight-up offer, the value for some of our players might not be as high as we think they should be. Three possible reasons:

1. Because we’re in San Jose  (a place where free agents apparently loathe coming to), we tend to overvalue our own players and have an unrealistic view of what return they should provide. For example, I thought that two picks (A late first and a second) or a young mid-six forward and a second round pick would be the return for Ehrhoff. That’s obviously not the case.

2. The cap situation is well known by other teams, and they’re exploiting the fact that the Sharks GM has backed himself into a corner. He HAS TO MAKE A TRADE, which again, limits his bargaining power.

3. The state of the economy is preventing teams from adding any additional payroll. However, the glut of spending at the start of free agency seems to suggest otherwise.

I’m thinking that all three of these things factor into the Sharks’ current level of inactivity. I don’t want to keep regurgitating old points, but it seems quite evident now that by waiting until now (or later) to make a deal, Doug Wilson has basically shot himself in the foot. If he could go back and do it all again, I’d like to think that he would have been more active at the draft, even if the return wasn’t what he was expecting. It was probably a hell of alot better than the return he’ll get now.

In addition, most all of the decent free agents have now left the market. There still are a few gems to be had (Taylor Pyatt, although, he’ll probably command around $2.0MM after making $1.75MM last year), but most of the solid players have been snapped up. Joel Ward, for example, would have been a perfect fit for this team. He resigned with Nashville for $1.5MM over three years; this contract could have been offered by the Sharks with a trade of Cheechoo at the draft, and they still would be in a better financial situation than they are now.

Hell, maybe the return for Cheechoo at the time of the draft was a third round pick. Maybe it was a fourth. Perhaps Wilson didn’t think that was a fair enough return for the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner. It’s probably not. However, when you look at the big picture, you have to consider the cap flexibility gained from trading Cheechoo as something the other team is giving you in the deal. Would you trade Cheechoo for $3MM and a third? A fourth? A fifth? Any one of those deals is a steal. Because when you think of the possibility that the cap room could be used to sign, say, Ward and Travis Moen, the trade becomes Johnathan Cheechoo for Ward, Moen, and a pick (3rd/4th/5th, whatever). Would you do that deal? That’s almost fleecing on a Thornton scale.

There’s no guarantee that the players would sign, or if the contracts would be the same as the ones they inked with other teams, but I think you catch my drift.

So, the good news is a trade is coming. The bad news? We’re most likely getting worked over in the process. The Sharks will contend next year, to be certain, but probably not at the level that they could have if Wilson could have pulled the trigger a little sooner.

via Back, meet corner. – Fear The Fin.

This is what I’ve been saying all along. Save your cap space and wait for bargains. Several teams (SJS, CHI, OTT, CHI) are going to make some very lop-sided trades.