Sharks fans may not know it but the contract extension signed by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic might be the best deal of the off-season. 'Pickles' at age 26 has already played 471 games over 6 NHL seasons. Selected in the 2nd round, #35 overall in the 2005 draft, Vlasic has become one of the most steady and dependable stay-at-home defenseman in the league.
His style of play might not bring fans to their feet, but his contributions are equal to that of a 40-goal scorer in its impact to the game. He is neither speedy nor flashy. What he does have is great balance, an active stick, superb positioning and a knack for reading the rush. Rarely will you see Vlasic out of position or beaten one on one. He is an enthusiastic shot-blocker and eats up minutes in every situation. I would dare say his play eliminates 3 to 5 scoring chances every game. The role of a shut-down d-man is probably the least appreciated position in hockey. His teammates know, his coaches know. He impacts games.
Locking up #44 for the next 6 season bodes well for the Sharks' future.
Last week the Sharks welcomed two ex-NHL defenesmen to Todd McLellan's coaching staff. Announced were Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson.
Robinson has done everything in hockey man could ever dream of. He never missed the playoffs in his 20-year career seasons with Montreal and Los Angeles, winning six Cups along the way. Twice he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. In 1978 Robinson won the Conn Smythe as the MVP of the playoffs. In 1384 regular season games he notched 208 goals and 750 assists. In 1995 Robinson was elected to Hockey's Hall-of-Fame. Not done there, Robinson has been head coach for parts of 7 season seasons. As a late-season hire he guided New Jersey to a Cup win in 2000. Just 61 Robinson still has some good hockey left in him. His impact on the 'D' corps and penalty-kill squad should prove invaluable.
The second new coach is a 49-year old Minnesotan, Jim Johnson. Johnson played parts of 15 seasons with 5 different teams. His career was cut short by injury be Johnson still managed to play 824 big league games. Most recently Johnson was part of Dale Hunter's coaching staff in Washington.
Adding 2 men with such resumes is sure to improve the Sharks in 2012-13.
Were you as surprised as I was that Minnesota was able to secure both of poster-boys of this free-agent season? Defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise signed identical 13-year contracts for dollars approaching $100M each. These players are solid NHLers with their best days ahead of them. However I don't see these signings as a ticket punch to the Stanley Cup ride.
Seriously...how much would a 27-year old free agent Wayne Gretzky be worth today? Mario Lemieux? Bobby Orr? Gordie Howe? Teams would be wearing out the '0s' key on their computers to sign those immortals. For the Wild's sake I hope these players pan out.
Did you see that 3 of San Jose favorite villains have moved to the Eastern Conference. Steve Ott moves from Dallas to Buffalo, another Star Mike Ribiero is now in Washington. And lastly Ducks tough guy George Parros is now a Florida Panther. I'm going to miss the six times the Sharks would faced these guys each season. We'll have to find a few new 'baddies' out there.
Still no word on the future home of free agent Shane Doan. In a rarity these days, Doan has played his entire career with one franchise, Winnipeg/Phoenix. I'm sure his heart is tugging him to stay in Phoenix but the future of that team remains in doubt. On the other hand Doan is positioned to make a boat load of money and perhaps find a better chance to play for the Cup elsewhere. Wherever he ends up Doan will bring skill, toughness and leadership.
There are still a few veteran free agents left. Most intriguing to me are forwards Jason Arnott and Daymond Langkow as well as defensemen Pavel Kubina and Carlo Colaiacovo.