The San Jose Sharks knew from their second round playoff exit that they needed to become better in the faceoff circle and more effective on the penalty kill. On July 3, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson addressed both needs when he grabbed right wing Mike Grier and center/left wing Curtis Brown off the free agent market.
“Take a look at the playoffs and we had to address penalty killing and size,” said Wilson. “Plus, both have a great playoff history. We had Curtis a couple of years ago and he was one of the best penalty killers out there. He didn’t put up huge numbers for us, but if you talk to the coaches, they’ll tell you all the little things he did. Mike goes to the net and Buffalo was one of the top penalty killing teams in the league.”
Grier reportedly signed for $1,775,000 a year for three years (with a no-trade clause) and Brown’s deal called for him to make $700,000 per year (not including the buyout of two years remaining on his Chicago deal) for two seasons.
“The Chicago situation (receiving the buyout) helped me and the team I was going to,” said Brown.
Both were excited to join the Sharks and noted the team’s on-ice potential and off-ice reputation as important factors in their decision.
“I probably had eight teams interested, and as a player, all you can ask is for teams to want you,” said Grier. “Once San Jose was interested, they shot to the top of the list.”
Brown had a bit of insight from his previous tenure in San Jose when he helped the Sharks reach the Western Conference Finals in 2004.
“My previous stint was only for a few months, but it is a huge part of me coming back,” said Brown. “We went to the conference finals and had a shot to go further. They are a top notch organization and the type of people you want to work for and with. When Mr. Wilson called and expressed interest, right away it was mutual on our part. Professionally and personally, San Jose was at the top of my list. I know what they like to do and they know how I’ll fit in.”
Grier has one Bay Area tie as his brother-in-law lives in the region.
“My brother-in-law lives out there, but that was not a main factor,” said Grier. “It is a good young team that seems to be a fit. They also have the best one-two combination in the league in Joe Thornton
and Patrick Marleau
. The next couple of years, there is a real chance to win the Cup.”
Grier spends the offseason in Boston and is familiar with a couple of Sharks players who spent quite a few summers there.
“I’ve known Joe since he was in Boston and we’d run into each other every now and then,” said Grier. “Jim Fahey and I have worked out and skated together in the summer.”
Grier did enjoy his time in Buffalo, with whom he reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
“I loved it in Buffalo and the guys know how I feel about them,” said Grier. “I felt going forward, San Jose was a better fit. Sometimes you have to make the business decision and go with your gut.”
Both players like the style of play.
“It’s good to get out west,” said Grier. “The Sharks play an exciting style that involves skating and finishing your checks. The travel is harder, but the game is more open.”
Both players will play a role in developing the Sharks young and talented club.
“They have a lot of young talent and skill,” said Grier. “I’ve helped out the young guys in Washington and Buffalo. They were looking for a little bit of grit and size on the wing and a guy who’s been through the playoffs. I’ll kill some penalties and bang around a bit.”
Brown is coming off a difficult personal year in which he suffered the loss of a child.
“It was definitely a tough time personally for us,” said Brown. “We don’t want anyone to every go through that.”
How it affected Brown on the ice is tough to guess, even though he did not miss any action.
“You don’t know how it affects you,” said Brown. “It had to have some affect. We did the best we could. I’m so excited to be a year removed from that situation. We didn’t choose to move on (out of Chicago), but it is a breath of fresh air.”
Brown seems to be a solid fit to step in for Alyn McCauley who signed with Los Angeles.
“Curtis is very similar to Alyn, very versatile,” said Wilson.
While Chris Pronger was traded to Anaheim, the Sharks were involved in the talks. Just as they went out and acquired Joe Thornton
last year, the Sharks are willing to deal for a top line player if there is a good match.
“Kevin called me, but the players he asked for made it a non-starter for us,” said Wilson. “We’re not going to do something that would prevent us from being a top team for a long time.”
There was much speculation that the Sharks would move Vesa Toskala or Evgeni Nabokov at the Draft or prior to the start of free agency, but Wilson said there is no rush.
“We’ve had lots of conversations,” said Wilson. “It will play itself out in due time. There is a lot of time until October and I will resolve the situation in the time and place that is best for us.”