Like most hockey executives around the League, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson is a busy man. With the NHL’s free agency period set to open on July 1, general managers and hockey fans alike are literally counting down the days until Group III unrestricted free agents are permitted to negotiate with any team in the League.
Getting an early start on the annual festivities, Wilson made waves in the free agent pool last week, removing veteran defenseman Craig Rivet from the available list and signing him to a four-year deal. Rivet, who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline from Montreal, was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
While Wilson and the Sharks front office acted quickly with Rivet, it remains to be seen whether or not there will be additional business consummated come July 1. However, Wilson and his staff have an established track record of targeting and landing players that fit into the Sharks existing talent group, without compromising the core of the squad.
“Our goal is to build a team that is capable of competing for the Stanley Cup each and every year and keep it together,” said Wilson. “I have always said that we will look at each and every option available whether it is acquiring players through trade like Joe Thornton
, the draft like Marc-Edouard Vlasic
or free agency like Mike Grier.”
|Sharks forward Mike Grier immediately became a fan favorite with his "leave it all on the ice" style of play. |
Last summer, Wilson quietly signed Grier and Curtis Brown to multi-year deals. While the two veteran forwards were not the biggest names in the free agent pool, the duo emerged in 2006-07 as San Jose’s top penalty killing forwards and injected their professional presence into the Sharks young locker room, addressing several needs identified by Wilson and his staff. Grier immediately became a fan favorite with his “leave it all on the ice” style of play and consistently chipped in big goals at key times.
Similar moves by the Sharks front office could be made this summer.
“Under the current cap system, teams have to be cautious of the premium dollars and term that the UFA market tends to lend itself to,” said Wilson. “It can be very counter-productive to keeping your group together long term.”
Should the right deal arise however, Wilson and the Sharks have shown the willingness to go after a high-profile player. In 2005-06, the Sharks dealt regulars Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau to Boston for Bruins captain Joe Thornton
That move propelled the Sharks into the second round of the playoffs as Thornton earned MVP honors for his performance. Wilson has said that had the club not had Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski
and Matt Carle coming up in the pipeline, making the Thornton trade would have been much more difficult.
And while all eyes remain focused on hockey’s silver chalice, the success that Wilson has crafted over the past three seasons is hard to argue with, as the team has been in contention for the big prize each season. During that span, San Jose’s 138 wins ranks fourth among all NHL teams. Only the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators have appeared in as many playoff rounds as the Sharks (7) and only the Ducks have won more series.
Perhaps overlooked in the exuberance of high-profile free agent signings is the other door that the July 1 deadline opens: contract negotiations. Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to begin talking with their own players about possible contract extensions beginning July 1st of the year the player’s contract is set to expire.
Wilson has gone on record several times stating that he not make any moves around the July 1 timeframe that would hinder the Sharks chances of re-signing Thornton or Captain Patrick Marleau
. A quick look around the NHL finds several teams in a quandary come this July 1 where they may not be in the market to add a key free agent and could witness one or two of their tops stars flee via free agency, leaving the club with nothing to show for it.
While the Sharks will certainly look to bolster their lineup by shopping in the free agent market, re-signing current players like Thornton, Marleau, Brown and Patrick Rissmiller (all slated for unrestricted free agency in summer of 2008) will be equally important. San Jose may also look to negotiate new deals with Steve Bernier, Matt Carle, Ryane Clowe
, Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc, Joe Pavelski
and Milan Michalek. Each of those players are slated for restricted free agency after the 2008-09 season.
“Keeping this group together is a priority,” said Wilson.
“It’s an exciting time of the year for our organization and all of our fans,” said Sharks President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Jamison. “I think Doug and his staff have shown the willingness to add the right pieces to the team at the right time. Our track record is that we have always done what we needed to do at the appropriate time. We have always said we will explore all options to make this team better.”
To keep up with the latest free agency news and everything Sharks hockey, Crash the Net at www.sjsharks.com.
NHL SALARY CAP SET AT $50 MILLION
The NHL's salary cap is on the rise. The League and NHL Players' Association announced Friday that teams will be able to spend up to $50.3 million (US) on players next season. This year's cap was set at $44 million.
The minimum teams will be forced to spend in 2007-08 is $34.3 million. When the League and union returned from the lockout for the 2005-06 season, the first NHL salary cap was $39 million. Less than two years later, it has already grown by almost 29 per cent.