Future stars of the world’s fastest game are gathering at Sharks Ice at San Jose, including the selections that Doug Wilson, Tim Burke and the Sharks scouting staff made at the recent NHL Entry Draft. But now, we are in a period where unrestricted free agents are dominating the discussions, and that brings forth another question that is flooding the mind of the concerned hockey habitué today.
Who is the most important free agent signed by an NHL team so far this summer?
From the San Jose Sharks perspective, you have to start with the players who have departed. The team moved Michal Handzus, Ryane Clowe, and Douglas Murray at the trade deadline. Handzus played an important role on Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship team, and re-signed with the Blackhawks. Clowe had a positive, albeit injury-riddled time with the New York Rangers before signing a big deal with the New Jersey Devils. Murray was a solid presence on Pittsburgh’s run to the Eastern Conference Final, and while he remains a free agent, there has been a lot of discussion that the Penguins would like to bring him back for another kick at the can.
Other Sharks who became ex-Sharks include goaltender Thomas Greiss, a popular figure in the dressing room who signed a contract with the Coyotes; Frazer McLaren, who was claimed off waivers by Toronto earlier in the year and re-signed with the Maple Leafs; Dominic Moore, who returned to the NHL where it started in Manhattan with the Rangers after a long year away from the game; and Jon Matsumoto, who played this past year in Worcester of the AHL and returned to his starting point with a new contract in the Sunshine State, also known as F-L-A.
Lots of roster space was created with these transactions, and virtually everyone agrees that the Sharks have become a better team, even with the departure of this highly respected roll call of excellent players. Draft picks were accumulated, more moves were made, and San Jose either acquired or re-signed the following players:
Scott Hannan proved that author Thomas Wolfe’s lament in You Can’t Go Home Again did not apply to him. He returned home to the place where he was brought into the NHL and was a valuable cog in the Sharks Machine in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tyler Kennedy was picked up from Pittsburgh for one of the draft picks that Wilson wheeled and dealed for at the trade deadline. Kennedy is a speedy, pesky winger who can play with top talents, kill penalties, and fill a variety of roles. He’s tough to play against, and he has a 2009 Stanley Cup title in his resume from his days with Burgh Hockey.
But who is the most important free agent signing of the summer so far? For the answer, we need to also examine what is going on elsewhere.
Ray Emery went from Chicago to Philadelphia. Jarome Iginla went via Calgary and Pittsburgh to Boston. Daniel Alfredsson went from Ottawa to Detroit and Bobby Ryan went from Anaheim to Ottawa. Nathan Horton went from Boston to Columbus. Rob Scuderi went from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. Pierre-Marc Bouchard went from Minnesota to the Islanders. Steven Weiss went from Florida to Detroit. Tyler Seguin went from Boston to Dallas in a 7-player package deal that included Loui Eriksson moving to Boston, and lots of buzz moving out into the Twitterverse. Alexander Burmistrov went from Winnipeg to Ak-Bars Kazan of the KHL.
Isn’t it interesting to note that the prevailing trend is for players to be signed from Western Conference teams by Eastern Conferenc e clubs? It’s a sure sign that fans of the San Jose Sharks are seeing the truly best hockey available in the world every time that they take their seats here in the Bay Area, and it’s a sure sign that the Eastern Conference is looking to get some of that winning hockey style to move a couple of time zones toward the Atlantic Ocean.
But let’s get back to addressing the question at hand. Who is still out there to provide splash? Some of the so-called big names include Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas, Jose Theodore, Brenden Morrow, Dan Cleary, and others. But none of these players will, in my estimation provide the importance needed to be called the biggest free agent signing of the summer.
My answer for that is back in San Jose. While he still had a year to go on his current deal, there is no doubt in my mind that Logan Couture will be the name that will be picked as the most important free agent signing of the summer. The Sharks and Couture committed to each other for five more years, thereby foregoing unrestricted free agency, and ensuring Sharks fans that this rising young star will remain in Teal for years to come. Among the next generation of stars, the Eastern Conference has a player like John Tavares of the New York Islanders, and in the Western Conference, Couture is also moving upward in the NHL firmament.
For a further look at the constellations of the future, make sure that you get to Sharks Ice at San Jose on Thursday night for a public glimpse of the newest members of the Organization at the Inaugural Sharks Prospects Summer Scrimmage Presented by RAM which will be held on Thursday July 11 at 7 p.m. on the North Rink at Sharks Ice at San Jose. Sharks Radio will be there!