The San Jose Sharks are often referred to as the Washington Capitals of the west. Primarily this analogous reputation is based on playoff failures but the way in which the Sharks fail is also similar to that of the pre-Braden Holtby Capitals. IE- bad goaltending and a shallow blue-line. The Sharks’ biggest areas of concern have remained the same for a number of years. This offseason is yet another chance to add depth to their blue-line and to change things up between the pipes. Today’s column will take a look at two familiar names the Sharks should bring in to help bolster the blue-line.
Christian Ehrhoff began his career as a Shark, drafted out of Germany by San Jose in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Entry draft. He spent the first five years of his career with Team Teal, proving to be an offensive weapon with his booming shot. While he did have a reputation for missing the net with said howitzer, he still managed to produce solid offensive numbers. Since his sophomore season he has always had at least 20 points, including 33 in his third year and 42 in his final year by the bay. While his career year with the Sharks did see his plus/minus fall to minus-12 on a President’s Trophy winning team, Ehrhoff thrived the following season. Traded to Vancouver that summer, Ehrhoff was absolutely amazing for the Canucks with 44 points and a plus-36 rating. A year over year plus/minus increase of plus-48. He backed it up with a third straight career high in points with 50 the following season with the Canucks. Overall a plus-55 rating and two big offensive years in Vancouver landed him a giant deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
Not surprisingly Ehrhoff never reached the same success with Buffalo that he did with Vancouver. However, despite being bought out of his massive contract this past offseason, Ehrhoff was, and still is thought of as a solid two-way defenseman. In that sense it was certainly a tad surprising that Ehrhoff settled for a one-year deal for only $4 million with the Pittsburgh Penuins. Despite not having a great year in Pittsburgh, Ehrhoff is arguably a much more rounded defenseman now than when he scored 42 points in 2008-09. Just 14 points in an injury riddled 48 game season means it is difficult to envision Ehrhoff getting more than a one-year deal this time around. Even with defensemen always being in high demand in free agency, the Sharks might be able to nab him back at one-year for $3.5 million. If they can get him on that type of deal, they would be wise to jump on it. The short term is low risk, and for a top-4 defenseman that can play in all situations, that is far from a steep cap hit. Ehrhoff would fit great with Justin Braun and allow Marc-Edouard Vlasic to cover for Brent Burns’ defensive mistakes.
Another familiar name to Sharks fans is Zbynek Michalek, the long time Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman is the brother of former Sharks winger Milan Michalek. The older Michalek doesn’t score a whole lot from the blue-line but is usually good for 15-20 points and would be a good stay-at-home right-handed shooting defenseman to play on a third pair with either Brenden Dillon or Mirco Mueller. The 6’2″ 210 pounder is known for being a smart defensive player with an active stick and would be ideal to have on the bottom pair. Last season he was still playing at a $4.0 cap hit but I expect that to come down to around $3 million this season. That may sound like a bit much for a third pair guy but on a one-year deal, it would be well worth it. Like Ehrhoff, Michalek is just 32-years-old and still has gas left in the tank. In case of injury, Michalek is more than capable of jumping up onto a second pair which is why a $3 million cap hit wouldn’t be much of an overpay at all. On a 2013-14 Coyotes team that missed the playoffs as a 9th seed, Michalek led the Arizona defense with a 56.1% goals-for percentage at even strength. This in spite of a below average 48.9% Corsi-for percentage.
The strong goals for percentage despite a below average Corsi-for indicates Michalek’s ability to come up strong away from the puck in his own zone. Michalek would give the Sharks lots of flexibility on the right-side of that blue-line as he could play on any of the pairs. His strong defensive acumen means that he could potentially fit well with Ehrhoff, as an offensive-defensive balance or with Vlasic on a shut-down heavy type pair.
Ehrhoff + Michalek = Cheaper than Green/Franson
Obviously by taking fliers on Michalek and Ehrhoff, there is a higher likelihood that they won’t perform to expectations. However, signing these two guys would be mostly low risk and high reward because of the likely short terms on their contracts and lower cap hits. The Sharks ought to be able to sign both Ehrhoff and Michalek for no more than a combined $7 million. The big fish on the open market for defense are likely to sign for at least $6 million each and for multiple years. There is much more risk with injury and long term performance in the cases of Capitals free agent Mike Green and Predators free agent Cody Franson. For more or less the same total cap hit, the Sharks could potentially snare two quality defenseman (instead of just one) and the one-year deals would be low risk compared to being tied into a long term contract if things don’t work out.
Sharks Have the Cap Space
The Sharks have the cap space to utilize in free agency. Unfortunately, GM Doug Wilson has never been great at bringing in free agents. However, spending 6-7$ million on two defenseman each on one-year deals would be a wise move.
All of a sudden, that looks like a much better, well-rounded defense with perhaps Matt Irwin as a seventh defenseman on the NHL roster and Mirco Mueller as an eighth defenseman ideally playing in the AHL.