It’s safe to say that signing day (Wednesday) played out more unpredictably than most probably imagined. The San Jose Sharks made some unexpected moves, too. The first major shift for the club was the signing of veteran goaltender James Reimer, and the second was centerman Nick Bonino.
These two moves were precisely what General Manager Doug Wilson said were the most important acquisitions to make this offseason during a virtual conference on Tuesday. While there is a lot to be said about Reimer’s role in net following the club’s recent trade for Adin Hill, I would like to zone in on Bonino, and how his role is likely to make a big splash in the 2021-22 season.
What Bonino Brings
If I’m being honest, Bonino was not one of the centermen I thought Wilson would be looking into. I was initially leaning toward Mikael Granlund, but it turns out that the Finnish player was signed for more than double what Bonino was signed for. And with a cap-strapped team such as the Sharks, it made sense that Wilson was not willing to pay any more than he absolutely needed to.
Wilson mentioned in a virtual interview after signing Bonino (and Andrew Cogliano) that he had been wanting these two guys for a long time.
And there’s a good reason why Wilson wanted Bonino in the Bay Area. For the past eight seasons, Bonino has averaged just over 34 points. The centerman is also a fairly disciplined player when it comes to taking penalties. Though he is not an overly aggressive guy, he still manages to contribute on the defensive side of the puck. In the 2021-22 season, Bonino registered 50 blocks in 55 games, averaging under 15 minutes of ice time per game.
Bonino’s projected wins above replacement (WAR) is indeed trending downward, but he is still highly effective on defense and the penalty kill. If there’s one thing a third-line center is expected to do, it’s keeping the puck out of their own net until the top lines can get back on the ice. Given the Sharks’ subpar play defensively for the past couple of seasons, Bonino is sure to be welcomed with open arms.
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However, Bonino is not merely a one-dimensional player.
While his even-strength offensive production could be a little bit better, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he gets back to scoring between 12 and 18 goals per season. And if he can manage to do that, I would say Wilson did exactly what he was supposed to do during free agency, given the team’s precarious situation.
But Bonino’s analytics is not the only thing he brings to the Sharks’ organization. Wilson mentioned that Bonino also brings a lot of intangibles to the team, too. It doesn’t appear that Wilson was exclusively assessing skill when it came to signing a third-line center. It was also about getting someone in the locker room who could be a leader and someone who had a proven track record of making a positive impact on the teams they had previously played for.
What Wilson ended up paying for Bonino is also an important part of why he was the target over the other available options (such as Granlund). He had an annual cap hit of $4.1 million over the last four years, but Wilson was able to sign him to a two-year deal, worth just over $2 million per year. For a 32-year-old veteran centerman who has two Stanley Cups under his belt, it’s safe to say that Wilson picking up Bonino was a steal.
I still don’t think the Sharks are in a position to make a serious run for the playoffs in the 2021-22 season but given a projected weak Pacific Division, there is still a chance, however small. It’s going to take a lot more than a third-line center acquisition and a marginally better set of goaltenders to be a true contender. The entire team will need to step up.
But this somewhat pessimistic reality did not stop Bonino from saying that he signed with the Sharks because they are a playoff team (From “San Jose Sharks talk ‘P’ word after signings, but questions remain,” Mercury News, 7/28/2021).
It’s going to be an interesting offseason, and perhaps we will have a clearer picture of where the Sharks stand after training camp. Wilson mentioned that he wants a competitive training camp—from both the veterans and young players. We can only hope it turns out as Wilson expects.
As with many youngsters who grow up in the Midwest, CG played a lot of hockey. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens. But he writes other things, too, including a novel entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him on Twitter @CGHockeyWriter.