Monday, July 30, 2007

Ryder signs, Cheechoo cringes

While $2.5 million, which is the amount Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo will collect for the 2007-08 NHL season, is more than I or any reader of this blog (all one of you) will aspire to make in a decade or perhaps even a lifetime, let alone a year, you can't help but think Cheechoo enters a state of acute depression whenever news breaks of a decidedly lesser forward signing a contract that will compensate him more handsomely than Cheechoo.

The latest example is a one-year, $2.95 million contract signed by Michael Ryder, of all people, yesterday. The RFA was headed to arbitration but settled contract issues before the hearing. Now Ryder isn't exactly some random scrub. He did score 30 goals and 58 points last year and has scored 85 goals and 176 points in a 244-game career that includes a selection to the 2004 All-Rookie Team. But the real insult added to Cheechoo's injury is that Ryder signed a contract for below market value, presumably for the incentive of becoming a free agent July 1st, 2008 and hop on the first train out of Montreal, yet still received a higher paycheck for his 58 points than the Cheechoo Train.

Since the lockout, Jonathan Cheechoo has scored 100 goals in 180 regular-season and playoff games, second in the NHL during that span to only Ottawa's Dany Heatley. However, among forwards with NHL contracts for the 07-08 campaign, Cheechoo ranks 93rd in salary earned. That's right, 93rd. Now, this certainly isn't meant to be taken as a complaint. I'm ecstatic that the Sharks save valuable cap space by paying Cheech eons less than market value. What this does do is shed some light upon the intelligence of Doug Wilson. For all his faults, give DW some credit for locking up Cheechoo in February of '06, before he won the Rocket Richard trophy and helped Joe Thornton become league MVP.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Roy contract holds Michalek implications

Enter the world of Derek Roy. The guy has one decent season playing with All-Star calibre linemates in Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov and receives a 6-year, $24 million contract which will skew the RFA market for years to come. The Sharks will be a large player in that market next off-season as Marcel Goc, Christian Ehrhoff, Joe Pavelski, Steve Bernier, Ryane Clowe, Matt Carle and, most notably, Milan Michalek all become restricted free agents.

Now, setting aside the significant possibility that one or more of those players will be handed offer sheets by Krazy Kevin going apeshit again, the Roy contract will set a precedent for any and all contracts handed to the Sharks' 2008 RFAs, especially Michalek. Now, Roy scored 21 goals and 63 points in 75 games with a +37 rating, which projects out to about 69 points had he played in all 82 games. Michalek scored 26 goals and 66 points in 78 games last year while compiling a +17, which projects to a little over 69 points as well. So, their values are essentially the same.

Monetarily speaking, that will probably lead to a contract similar to Roy's, providing a cap hit of $4 million. Assuming the cap hits $53 million next year, this puts the Sharks in a precarious position as their cap number will already be inflated by the increase in Joe Thornton's contract, and this still is excluding the aforementioned group of RFAs, of which Matt Carle is likely due a significant raise. And did I mention Patrick Marleau becomes a UFA next July? Essentially, enjoy this relatively quiet off-season while you can, Sharks fans, because the next one's going to be a living hell.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sharks sign Alexei Semenov

The San Jose Sharks made their first dip into free agency Friday (unless you count signing Brad Norton as a dip), signing journeyman defenseman Alexei Semenov, most recently of the Florida Panthers. In 156 NHL games, the Russian has scored 5 goals, netted 16 assists and is +6 with 156 penalty minutes. I'd like to offer analysis, but I really don't know much about this guy. He's never played more than 46 games in an NHL season and was on a perpetual bus to Rochester for a large part of his tenure with the Panthers.

He should slot in as the Sharks' 7th defenseman and will likely see very little ice time (unless it's with Worcester) unless injuries crop up or Rob Davison plays like utter crap, both of which are significant possibilities. Of course, this Semenov business is overshadowing the real story here -- the Sharks actually signed someone with (remote) NHL abilities! While it may be 26 days too late for some, including this blogger, San Jose put pen to paper at long last. You can tell it's been quite an offseason when signing Alexei Semenov constitutes an event.

NBC revamps NHL studio show

According to this press release, NBC plans to revamp its weekly NHL on NBC studio show, with the most interesting change the advent of longtime New York Islanders coach/GM Mike Milbury, who will be replacing the one-and-done Brett Hull as a studio analyst. Also, Alex Trebek lookalike Bill Clement (close enough) will no longer be the show's moderator, with that job going to "Inside the Glass" reporter Pierre "not picking Cherepanov is unconscionable" McGuire, known for his role with Canada's TSN network.

The show will also no longer be based out of the Rockafeller Center in downtown New York, rather the arena in which the "Game of the Week" is played. Letting go of Clement is a bad decision in my mind, but perhaps a little less political correctness will do the show some good. Milbury, whose self-proclaimed legacy is beating up a New York Rangers fan with his loafer, can bring that element if truly motivated. I'm certainly not a McGuire fan, but his knowledge of the game is respectable. Still, one can't help but think Jeremy Roenick would be the perfect personality to add here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oilers at it again

Kevin Lowe and his ragtag crew of Edmonton Oilers management types are back to their dastardly RFA offer sheet ways, with the Anaheim Ducks their new victim. According to TSN, the Oilers tendered Ducks power forward Dustin Penner a five-year, $21.5 million sheet that screams of desperation, especially when the player in question put up just 45 points. But hey, I'm not complaining. Penner was a pain-in-the-nether orifice for the San Jose Sharks all season long last year, potting six goals and two assists in eight games against San Jose. Moving him out of the division would be a great turn of events in my mind.

Now the question is whether or not Ducks GM Brian Burke will match. The Oiler's earlier RFA offer sheet this offseason blew up in their face, when GM Darcy Regier of the Buffalo Sabres matched a 7-year, $50 million contract tendered to sniper Thomas Vanek. No GM in NHL history has failed to match an offer sheet, but I have a feeling Burke will be the first. If Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne decide not to retire, a possibility that increases with each passing day without an official statement, the Ducks will potentially be in salary cap hell, having signed UFAs Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi to lucrative deals earlier this month. My prediction? Burke doesn't match and Penner has a terrible season with the Oilers, where he collapses under the pressure of an Edmonton media expecting him to lead the franchise to glory (a la Joffrey Lupul) and Lowe finally gets fired for his incompetence. Or receives a ten-year extension. Whatever.

UPDATE If the Ducks are to match, it would reportedly put them $2 million over the cap with the retirement-contemplating Selanne and Scott Niedermayer still unsigned.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Arbitration thoughts

Allan Muir at Sports Illustrated had an interesting piece detailing the NHL's upcoming salary arbitration cases, which began today with Washington Capitals' forward Brooks Laich. While Rob Davison, the only Shark set to have his salary determined by a third party, settled his situation before time, Sharks fans should still take notice of the awards handed out, if only to get a sense of what upcoming San Jose RFAs such as Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Matt Carle and others will look at to determine their compensation.

Ray Emery, above, seems to be the most interesting case as the 24-year-old goaltender handily lead the Ottawa Senators past Eastern giants Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo en route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance against Anaheim. The rumblings are that the Emery camp is likely to point to the recent $4.25, one-year deal handed to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, while the Sens brass will look at the $2.33 cap hit generated by Carolina tender Cam Ward's recent contract. The richest award is likely to be handed out to 80-point man Mike Cammalleri, whose representation wouldn't be out of line suggesting the $5.25 million salary garnered by the likes of Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagne and Olli Jokinen, whether or not one breakout season by Cammalleri places him in the same plane as those players.

Other notables: Derek Roy, Buffalo; Michael Ryder, Canadiens; Sean Avery, Rangers; Lee Stempniak, Blues; Trent Hunter, Islanders; Chris Kelly, Senators; Milan Jurcina, Capitals

Friday, July 20, 2007

To Russia with love (or not)

So, this is how the rather strenuous relationship between Alexei Yashin and the NHL finally ends, with a disgruntled and bought out Yashin fielding few serious offers as an unrestricted free agent, then packing his bags and signing with the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League. It's been a rather unceremonious end for the former Hart Trophy nominee and Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders captain as his ridiculous 10-year, $85 million albatross of a contract was finally bought out by the Isles following the conclusion of the season.

At Yaroslavl, Yashin will join fellow NHL exiles Igor Ulanov, Alexei Mikhnov, Denis Grebeshkov and, according to the previously cited Candian Press report, former Islanders teammate Randy Robitaille. While it's no myth that Yashin is a soft player known for playoff disappearances and a penchant for backing away from physicality, one wonders how different his profile as a player would be if not for that insane contract. After all, Yashin finished (assuming he does not return to the NHL, which a reported escape clause in his contract with the Lokomotiv does allow) with respectable career totals of 337 goals and 781 points in 850 games and scored 60 or more points during each season in which he played in a total of 60 or more games. Even still, it's fair to assume that the Russian center will not be missed, not by the Islanders (despite a roster that projects to land them in the NHL basement) and certainly not by the National Hockey League.

Jerseys leaked?

The speculation regarding the Sharks' new jerseys, which will be officially unveiled Tuesday, July 24th complete with a press conference to be broadcasted on, continues as a member of the Sharks' official message board posted a potential shot of the new dubs:

Click on the image for a larger version. There's absolutely no substantiation that these are the real jerseys, but for what it's worth, I think they look reasonably believable. Another image was also posted on that same board, that has all but been confirmed to be unreal. As with most things posted there, these need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the image above seems to be plausible, the only chink in its armor being the inclusion of the secondary fin logo, of which there were rumblings regarding its departure from the Sharks' jersey. However, it's possible those were either rumors or the Sharks org reconsidered. Either way, the jerseys will be officially revealed on Tuesday.

In other new jersey news, the Nashville Predators unveiled their new outfits during the "Our Team" season ticket rally which, reportedly, was successful, meaning Balsillie or Del Biaggio or whoever buys the Predators will have to cough up a whole lot of dough to get out of the franchise's escape clause

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sharks sign Couture

The Sharks wasted little time inking their first selection in last month's NHL Entry Draft, signing Ottawa 67's center Logan Couture, as per the team's official website. Doug Wilson, being a former Ottawa junior defenseman himself, kept his infatuation with 67's players alive by going through painstaking means to obtain the 9th overall pick with which he selected Couture. Having no first-round picks at the beginning of the day, Wilson parlayed Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell into Toronto's first selection, the 13th overall pick, then swapped that and a second-rounder with St. Louis's ninth overall selection.

A solid two-way player with average skating ability, Couture put up 26 goals and 78 points last season with the 67's despite battling mononucleosis. Before his bout with the condition, Couture was seen as a consensus No. 1 overall pick. With Sharks captain Patrick Marleau becoming a UFA at the end of the 07-08 season, it's a distinct possibility Couture is being viewed as the Sharks' second-line pivot as early as the 08-09 campaign. Time will tell, but it's doubtful he'll make the team out of training camp this year.

Boogaard re-signs with Minny

Amidst controversy regarding his summer camp that specializes in teaching kids to beat the crap out of each other on ice, popular enforcer and restricted free agent Derek Boogaard has re-signed with the Minnesota Wild, according to ESPN.

There was speculation that the Philadelphia Flyers, in their quest for a goon following Todd Fedoruk's departure, would sign the RFA to an offer sheet, but the Broad Street Bullies will now have to look elsewhere as the 6-foot-7, 270-pound thug of two career goals and 278 career penalty minutes is now locked up to a multiyear contract.

In a sense, this signing could be considered another sign that the NHL goon really isn't dead. In fact, according to my unscientific survey, of the 30 NHL teams, only the Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings do not currently employ an enforcer. As Boogaard himself said, "[Fighting] is coming back. I'm excited for the season."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Predators staying in Nashville?

The seemingly endless soap opera involving the Nashville Predators' imminent move took another turn Wednesday as Craig Leipold met with commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss a third bid for the team recently received by Leipold from a Nashville-based group hoping to keep the Predators in Music City.

After so much turmoil involving this situation, it must be a relief for the Predators organization and their fans that the team now has a legitimate chance of remaining in Nashville. With Balsillie's bid, contingent on moving the franchise to Hamilton, ON, all but voided, it seems that the local group's sole competition comes from San Jose entrepeneur William "Boots" Del Biaggio who has plans of moving the Predators to Kansas City to play in the shiny, new Sprint Center.

My personal distaste for Predators hockey aside, the team remaining in Nashville is probably the best option at this point for the National Hockey League. There is no doubt in my mind that the team would have easily flourished in Hamilton, but with Balsillie being shown the door, that fantasy has been shut down. I would much rather see the team stay in Music City, where they have been building up a decent following, albeit one that doesn't translate to corporate support, rather than Kansas City where, once the novelty wears off, the team will be playing to empty buildings on a regular basis.

If a Kansas City team does materialize, I would prefer it to be spawned through expansion, which seems like a plausible outcome with producer Jerry Bruckheimer rumored to being awarded a franchise in Las Vegas, which would be balanced out by an Eastern Conference team, likely one occupying the Sprint Center. Of course, all of this is thrown out the window if the bid by the local group falls through and/or a new bid emerges, and as has been the case with this entire phenomenon, both outcomes are not only possible, but should probably be expected.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One more round for Foppa?

Woody Paige of the Denver Post's piece urging the Colorado Avalanche to bring back the face of their past, Peter Forsberg, who currently sits as a free agent without a contract contemplating retirement has been creating some buzz lately as many members of the blogosphere ponder aloud whether bringing back Forsberg for a genuine goodbye, as Paige suggests in his column, would be the best course of action for the Avs.

Obviously the primary issue involving signing Forsberg is his storied injury history. Foppa has only once played 82 games in his NHL career, back in the 1995-96 season and over his 13-year career has averaged a measly 54 games a season. In addition to the fact Forsberg will likely not be able to eclipse the 60-game mark again, his effectiveness and durability when he actually does show up to the rink is equally questionable. For the first time in his career, Forsberg averaged less than a point a game last year, scoring 55 points in 57 games with Philadelphia and Nashville. He was also not a point-a-game man for the Predators in the postseason, scoring four points in five games.

Despite all the questions, one has to agree with Paige that giving one of the greatest playoff performers and two-way players in NHL history a proper goodbye is in the best interest of not only the Colorado Avalanche, but the entire National Hockey League. Seeing Forsberg team up with Joe Sakic one more time would be delightful.

UPDATE Another Denver Post staff writer, Adrian Dater, reports that his surgically repaired right ankle's condition is encouraging and has informed a Swedish newspaper that several NHL teams remained interested in his services and that he will make a decision when he feels mentally and physically ready. Interestingly enough, Avalanche GM Francois Giguere stated that he is unsure whether he is comfortable tinkering with the Avs' lineup, despite the fact that Colorado still has about $6 million to work with under the cap.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Davison re-signs

According to TSN, Sharks defenseman and restricted free agent Rob Davison, who had previously filed for arbitration, was signed by the Sharks to a one-year contract. Terms of the deal were unspecified.

With Scott Hannan bolting to Colorado via free agency, the Sharks' sixth defensive spot is largely up for grabs, with Davison likely being regarded as the favorite to step into the role. He played in just 22 games this season, recording a measly two assists, but was far more effective in the 2005-06 campaign when, in addition to playing in a career-high 69 games, he was fourth on the team in blocked shots and fifth in hits.

In 161 career games, the 27-year-old has 14 points. He is also considered a fan favorite by many Sharks supporters who admire his dedication, hard work and pugilism.

The new look of Sharks territory?

Greg Jamison: How do we increase profits without depending on playoff revenues, which would inherently require spending money to build a team that can go deep in the postseason?

Marketing Intern: I know, let's invent a new logo that, while only subtlely different from the original and guaranteed to aggravate old-school and casual fans alike, will prompt those same fans to purchase new merchandise!

Despite that sarcastic quip, I'm not too dissapointed with the new Sharks logo, other than the fact that, in my opinion, it was wholly unnecessary to change it in the first place. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. Presumably, this is part of the domino effect of the Buffalo Sabres changing their logo to the much-derided godawful Buffaslug, then proceeding to lead the league in merchandise sold. Oh well, at least my Sharks stuff will be that much more valuable now that they qualify as "vintage."

Oh, and a disclaimer that this may or may not be the official logo. It has been circulating on message boards and blogs and while it does seem fairly legitimate, could very well have been planted to deceive. The logo and jersey will be officially unveiled on the Sharks' official website on July 24th.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sabres match Vanek offer sheet

In a practice that has been tacitly outlawed in the NHL in recent off-seasons, the Edmonton Oilers, having been shut out of the unrestricted free agent market thus far, tendered Buffalo Sabres sniper and restricted free agent Thomas Vanek, he of 43 goals and an NHL-leading +47 rating last season, an offer sheet worth $50 million over a span of seven seasons. Having already lost co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency, the Sabres had to match, if only for the sake of an increasingly bitter fanbase.

Perhaps more interesting than the Vanek debacle is what this means for other restricted free agents on the market. Perhaps the best RFA who has yet to re-sign is New York Rangers star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. After signing Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to deals that each average over $7 million a season and being involved in contract negotiations with Brendan Shanahan that could surpass $4 million, the Rangers are tight against the cap. Wouldn't it be perfect for a team like, say, the Los Angeles Kings to tender King Henrik an offer sheet so exorbidant the cap-wary Rangers can't possibly match?

The loss of draft picks is what is supposed to keep this process in check, but wouldn't nabbing a franchise player like Lundqvist, or even one of the other marquee RFAs, such as Devils sniper Zach Parise, Ducks power forward Dustin Penner or Senators goaltender Ray Emery be worth the loss of a few picks? Additionally, while Kevin Lowe's bid to land Vanek may have fallen through, is the Oilers GM potentially setting himself up to sign RFAs who have elected salary arbitration, including the Kings' Mike Cammalleri, the Rangers' Sean Avery and the Sabres' Derek Roy, among others, whose arbitration awards are likely to skyrocket thanks to Vanek's new contract, rendering many of their teams incapable of re-signing them?

While the flurry of the free agent frenzy may finally be dying out, the commotion surrounding restricted free agents is likely to make the next few weeks intriguing ones.

Rounding out the top six

With Bill Guerin signing with the Islanders yesterday, the Sharks will potentially have two top-six forward spots open during training camp for youngsters (Steve Bernier, Ryane Clowe) and prospects (Devin Setoguchi [pictured], Lukas Kaspar) alike to vie for.

It's assumed that Milan Michalek, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo will comprise the Sharks' top line. After all, the trio was white-hot down the stretch, when Cheechoo turned what looked to be a dissapointing post-Rocket Richard campaign into a respectable 37-goal season, Thornton leapt from 19th to 2nd in the NHL scoring race and Michalek quitely put up 26 goals and 66 points. But after that line, it's anybody's guess.

Despite persistent reports of Patrick Marleau's imminent trade, Doug Wilson has denied actively shopping the Sharks' captain, meaning Marleau will fill in as San Jose's second-line center for at least one more season. So which wingers should play with Marleau? It wouldn't be a stretch to slot the versatile Clowe in there. In addition to being able to use his 6'2", 225 frame to his advantage as an effective forechecker, Clowe has the skill and soft hands to play with Marleau, as evidenced by his impressive January in which he put up 9 goals and 7 assists in 11 games and was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month. Clowe has the ability to play either wing, but, being a left-handed shooter, is more comfortable on the left side.

So that leaves room open for a right winger to play with Marleau. Steve Bernier has the potential to be a top six forward and enjoyed top-six minutes in his rookie campaign in 05-06, but suffered a serious decline this past season, scoring just 15 goals and 31 points in 62 games and was exiled to the AHL for a month. Mike Grier is versatile enough to be able to play on any line, but it is advisable to keep the Rissmiller--Brown--Grier outfit together given how well the unit functioned in a defensive role. Joe Pavelski is also an option, but as a natural cente, it would probably be best to keep him at center ice, presumably San Jose's fourth-line pivot.

No, the right wing who I believe may be best suited to play with Marleau on the second line is a prospect: Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi scored 65 points in 55 games for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL last season and has the speed and skill to bypass the AHL and make a direct transition into the National Hockey League. According to his impressive scouting report, Setoguchi is defensively conscious and "finishes his checks with authority," further leading to the belief that the kid may be ready for the NHL. If so, the Sharks' lineup would presumably resemble this:


Mercury News, Chronicle fire Sharks beat writers

It's a sad, sad day for Bay Area hockey coverage. According to this article by PJ Swenson of Sharkspage, the San Jose Mercury News has laid off popular beat writer Victor Chi and the San Francisco Chronicle has bought out the contract of Ross McKeon, who has covered the Sharks since their inception in 1991.

While this isn't entirely surprising, given not only the steady decline in hockey coverage by the American media since the lockout but the gradual replacement of the newspaper as a whole by internet resources, it's still dissapointing that the two largest newspapers in the Bay Area would shun the writers who provide coverage for arguably, especially recently, Silicon Valley's most successful sports franchise.

The Chronicle is likely to ditch original hockey coverage altogether, most probably replacing McKeon's insightful coverage with AP wire reports. The Mercury News had been increasing David Pollak's role in covering the Sharks steadily since the playoffs and, according to the aforementioned article, Pollak will be taking over Chi's duties and the paper will continue to cover the Sharks on the road.

McKeon and Chi aren't the only victims of the newspapers' large-scale gutting. The Chronicle is expected to cut 100 of its 400 editorial positions and the Mercury News is reportedly set to fire 50% of its 400-person staff. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though columnist Mark Purdy was among those fired. In addition to his position covering the Sharks for the Chronicle, McKeon was also The Hockey News' Sharks correspondent, meaning Pollak will likely step into that role as well. Regardless, Sharks coverage has taken quite a hit and the internet may now materialize as the prefferable medium through which to derive information and insight about the team.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Report: Roenick to retire

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, forward Jeremy Roenick, he of 495 goals and 1170 points in 1252 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings is set to announce his retirement later today.

And so ends the career of one of the most talented American-born players this sport has ever seen. Although known almost as much for his various off-ice antics (i.e., dancing on Staples Center ice after Luc Robitaille's final game in Los Angeles, embracing Comcast chairman Ed Snider after signing with the Flyers in 2001, often singing along with music playing on arena sound systems and much, much more), Roenick's career was stellar, highlited by his eclipse of the 100-point barrier in three consecutive seasons with the Blackhawks and it's regrettable that such a great player was never able to win a Stanley Cup. Although his final two seasons were largely forgettable, there's no doubt in my mind Roenick should, if not as a first-balloter, enter the Hall of Fame at some point in the future.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Stuart to L.A.

As discussed in my post about Doug Wilson's relative dormancy since the free agent signing period began, the market for defensemen has whittled down significantly to a point where I would have been happy to see Wilson sign former Shark Brad Stuart. Instead, Stuart has fallen into the clutches of Dean Lombardi, who simply can't keep his hands off former Sharks from his own era in San Jose.

According to TSN, Stuart signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. First off, he's only 27 so the term of the deal is a bit odd, especially considering the far gaudier contract lenghts handed out to players much older than him. The $3.5 million may be a bit overpaid, especially considering he tallied just 22 points last year and finished a dismal -10. Here's a look at the Kings current defense corps:


Honestly, it's not half-bad -- perhaps even greater than the Sharks' blueline, especially post-Hannan. Unfortunately for Kings fans, any move the club makes is rendered utterly insignificant by their goaltending situation. Dan Cloutier is simply not an NHL starter and neither is Jason LaBarbera or whoever else they decide to pull out of their farm system. The sooner Kings management realizes that and targets a netminder potentially on the trading block, the better the prospects in terms of Los Angeles contending for a postseason berth.

Devils sign Zubrus

TSN is reporting that the New Jersey Devils have signed free agent forward Dainius Zubrus to a 6-year, $20.4 million contract, which is a terrific bargain given some of the contracts that have been handed out in the last two days, most notably the Los Angeles Kings signing center Michal Handzus, decidedly a downgrade from Zubrus, to a deal that will pay Handzus $4 million a year. In addition to having one of the cooler names in all of hockey, Zubrus scored a career-high 24 goals and 60 points in 79 games for Washington and Buffalo last season. While you're probably kidding yourself if you believe he'll replace recently departed free agent Scott Gomez outright, he did net the same amount of points as Gomez, albeit in seven more games. Here's what the Devils depth chart at forward looks like, slotting Zubrus in at left wing rather than center:


Overall, that isn't terrible, especially if Zach Parise and Brian Gionta can both hit 35 goals, but it's the defense that'll now need to be improved and I don't think Johnny Oduya's recent re-signing or Karel Rachunek's reported resurfacing in Jersey is going to necessarily fix that.

Wilson still dormant

It's been nearly 48 hours since the floodgates opened on the free agent market, yet Doug Wilson's only signing involved a player who wouldn't have become a free agent until 2008. While other teams' home pages boast their signings of the likes of Chris Drury, Brian Rafalski and whatnot, the Sharks' website features Tim Hunter's fishing prowess. Now, change for change's sake is never a good thing and neither is overpaying for a player (See: Gainey, Bob and Hamrlik, Roman) but for a team like the Sharks that clearly underachieved last season and desperately need an injection of gritty, veteran players as well as defensive depth, a statement needs to be made and it needs to come from the man in charge. Here are a couple of defensemen who remain on the market that would be good fits for the Sharks:

D Danny Markov, Detroit Red Wings
Markov gave the Sharks fits in the playoffs last year as a member of Detroit and all indications coming out of Motown are that he will depart. At 6'1", 186 lbs., Markov's not the biggest defenseman available, but he thrives in a shutdown role and would make a potent replacement to Scott Hannan. Projected Salary: $2.5 million

D Aaron Miller, Los Angeles Kings
With a whopping zero goals and eight points in 82 games last season, Miller is far from a potent offensive weapon, but that's certainly not his role. The Buffalo native is known for playing a bruising brand of hockey and could be had for a bargain basement price. Projected Salary: $1 million

D Teppo Numminen, Buffalo Sabres
Although there are some unsubstantiated reports coming out of Buffalo that Numminen may re-sign with the Sabres, it's likely this 19-year NHL veteran whose name has never been engraved on the silver chalice would come to San Jose for a chance to chase Lord Stanley. In addition to his veteran leadership, Numminen brings with him solid defensive ability, some offensive potential and what is perhaps the shortest hockey stick in the NHL. Projected Salary: $1.8 million

Canucks sign trio

The Canucks made their first foray into free agency, inking free agent forwards Brad Isbister, formerly of the New York Rangers and Byron Ritchie of the Calgary Flames to contracts earlier today. More intriguing, perhaps, was their third signing, which did not unvolve an unrestricted free agent. Vancouver successfully signed 2004 first-round draft pick and Boston College goaltending phenom Cory Schneider as well. With Dany Sabourin, who backed up Roberto Luongo (i.e. delivered pizza to the press box) in 2006-07, signing with Pittsburgh on Sunday, Schneider is likely to be given a great chance to serve as Luongo's second-in-command this coming year.