The deadline to tender qualifying offers to potential restricted free agents befell the National Hockey League on Monday. Teams were required to extend a minimum offer of up to a 10% raise, dependent on a player’s previous contract, in order for those players to qualify as restricted free agents.
The San Jose Sharks went into Monday’s deadline with the opportunity to qualify nine free agents as restricted. Despite general manager Doug Wilson’s choice to only extend four of those nine, most of the news was expected.
Who the Sharks qualified: Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Dylan DeMelo, Ryan Carpenter
Who becomes an unrestricted free agent: Jeremy Morin, Jeremy Langlois, Petter Emanuelsson, Joel Rumpel, Chris Crane
The biggest story of the Sharks’ RFA pool is Tomas Hertl, to no surprise. The former first-round pick had a breakout season, finally showing signs that he had truly recovered from a crippling right knee injury suffered in the 2013-14 season. Hertl continued to be a factor in the Sharks’ historic playoff run, posting 11 points in 20 games, until suffering another right knee injury that caused him to miss the final four games of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Hertl will garner a major pay raise over the maximum entry-level salary he was paid of $925,000 in each of the past three seasons, but how much of a raise is up for dispute. Keep in mind that “a major pay raise” is not going to be $8,000,000 per season. However, Hertl’s production on the top line could very well still bump him to the $4-5 million range, or perhaps even higher if the Sharks feel there is a legitimate threat of an offer sheet. At the same time, there is also a ‘caveat emptor’ looming over Hertl, based on the forward’s injury history and lack of performance when not playing with Joe Thornton as his center. This could conceivably lessen whatever salary is agreed upon or perhaps lead to a bridge deal until the concerns are overcome. (All of these matters were touched upon in recent editions of Pucknology After Dark and Pucknology Writer’s Room.)
Long Beach-native Matt Nieto is the other Sharks’ regular whose rights have been retained. The Sharks have found use for Nieto on the forecheck in the bottom-six forward group. Unfortunately, the offensive skill that he once showed in college and even in previous training camps has never translated into much of a threat in the NHL. The team also holds leverage with prospects Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin pushing for roster spots on the wing next season. Nieto should remain an affordable player who is relatively simple to resign.
Dylan DeMelo’s second half of this past season saved his chances of remaining with the Sharks for the near future. He showed steady play in the defensive end when filling in for an injured Marc-Edouard Vlasic, as well as a surprising confidence with the puck. DeMelo may not be the ideal player to fill the hole on the Sharks’ third defensive pair going forward, but earned a contract and consideration for next season.
The remainder of potentially-qualified free agents played for the Sharks’ minor league affiliates this past season. Ryan Carpenter was the only one of these to be all-but-guaranteed to continue forward with the organization. An All-Star and team MVP for the American Hockey League’s San Jose Barracuda, Carpenter was a jack of all trades. He led the Barracuda in most offensive categories, was often the first man in on the forecheck, a top penalty killer, and won the AHL’s Yanick Dupré Award for contributions to the community. On a team lacking in centers and overall experience for next season, Carpenter is a no-brainer to resign for, at least, the Barracuda, with an outside chance of seeing time with the Sharks as well.
Of a bit of a surprise, right wing Jeremy Morin was allowed to walk, after essentially being acquired for Ben Smith in February. Morin is likely a victim of budget more than anything. His previous one-way contract and NHL experience likely would have required a minimum AHL salary higher than most for next season.
With Morin gone, Jeremy Langlois would have been the only experienced professional right wing remaining on the Barracuda (unless you count Nikita Jevpalovs). However, he has no NHL upside and if he were to return to the organization next season, it would be easier to sign him to an AHL contract and not eat up one of the 50 organizational roster spots that the Sharks are allowed.
The same goes for ECHL players Joel Rumpel and Chris Crane.
Petter Emanuelsson already has signed overseas in Sweden and is likely to never play in North America again, even if the Sharks had decided to retain his rights.
This year’s overall pre-free agency period went against the norm, with the majority of NHL teams being quite selective in determining who was tabbed as an RFA. Not much NHL-level talent was added to this year’s free agent pool but it will be quite the AHL free agent frenzy. The Sharks should have no trouble in finding decent players to complement their untried Barracuda corps for the upcoming season.
If the Sharks end up making some noise this offseason, it should not be expected to come from the crop of restricted free agents. There could be some talk regarding Hertl receiving an offer sheet just because he is a young, promising forward. This is unlikely, though, and the remaining depth of Sharks’ free agents will likely be taken care of without fanfare.