A Top Rated GM
San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson is widely considered a top GM in the NHL and rightfully so as his Sharks are in position for their 11th straight playoff birth. San Jose’s current run is the second longest streak going behind only the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks GM has been masterful at trading for core players like Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, and the recently departed Dan Boyle. He has also re-signed his core players like Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to team friendly extensions over the years. Furthermore, recent Sharks draft choices like Tommy Wingels, Justin Braun, Matt Nieto, and Tomas Hertl have also made an impact at the NHL level. Regardless of how much praise deserves to be thrown the way of director of scouting Tim Burke, Wilson certainly gets credit for pulling the trigger on draft day as well. The GM has built a competitive team for a decade and that is impressive. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Wilson has struggled to attract and sign free agents.
While signing marquee free agents from other teams isn’t a prerequisite to winning a Stanley Cup, it has certainly helped teams do just that. Sure enough the Los Angeles Kings are almost entirely home grown or acquired through trades, but the Chicago Blackhawks signed both Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa to big free-agent contracts that helped lead them to the 2010 Stanley Cup. The Sharks meanwhile have signed a number of free agents over the years but the list is incredibly underwhelming.
Free Agent Strike Outs
From the end of the 2009-10 season through 2013-14, the Sharks have essentially (waiver pickup and trade and sign included) signed the following free agents:
Antti Niemi, Antero Niittymaki, Jamal Mayers, Kyle Wellwood, Michal Handzus, Jim Vandermeer, Brad Winchester, Colin White, Adam Burish, Brad Stuart, Scott Gomez, and John Scott.
Outside of Niemi, who has struggled in three of four playoffs since becoming a Shark, the rest of this group is a bunch of guys at the tail end of their careers who provided next to nothing in teal. If we go back further, there are some much better performers acquired via free agency but merely veteran stop gaps.
From the end of the 2005-06 season through to 2009-10, the Sharks signed the following free agents:
Mike Grier, Curtis Brown, Jeremy Roenick, Sandis Ozolinsh, Manny Malhotra, and Rob Blake.
This group of free agents is a much better list but none of them lasted in San Jose for more than two seasons. Certainly in their first years with the Sharks both Rob Blake and Jeremy Roenick were terrific. Not to mention Manny Malhotra was excellent in his lone year in 2009-10 but all of it was short lived.
Over the course of the Joe Thornton era, the Sharks have simply not signed a single free agent who has become a consistent impact player over multiple seasons. The only one that comes close is Niemi but nobody, not even for those who steadfastly defend the Sharks goaltender, can say Niemi has exceeded expectations.
Is Karlsson Wilson’s Best?
Now certainly it is hard to argue that Blake’s 2008-09 season wasn’t better than what Sharks rookie free agent forward Melker Karlsson has done this season. However, at 24-years-old and a restricted free agent this offseason, Karlsson looks to be a big part of San Jose’s future. Thus far in 25 games since being recalled from AHL Worcester on Dec. 9, Karlsson has scored nine goals and added five assists for 14 points. A small sample size, and not the type of impact that Blake had in 2008-09 but his performance this year is arguably a bigger deal than Blake’s was back then. With the Sharks frequently striking out on free agents in recent years, Karlsson’s rise is a big deal. As a free agent rookie playing on the top line, the Sharks might finally have signed an impact player that looks like he will last for more than just two seasons. There is a strong argument to be had that Karlsson’s production so far in 25 games makes him the best free agent forward the Sharks have signed over the last decade. Roenick and Malhotra were good but they weren’t top line players. Overall Karlsson is not yet Wilson’s best free agent but certainly outside the goaltending position, he is the most notable one in a long, long time.