The San Jose Sharks re-signed two restricted free agent (RFA) defensemen per NHL.com Wednesday, July 16. Cap Geek lists the contract for Jason Demers at two years, $6.8 million while Taylor Doherty will make $675,000 if he makes the team and $90,000 in the AHL on his one-year, two-way contract.
While general manager Doug Wilson set the blue-line depth chart (pictured in order of projected ice time) one through five by signing Demers, retaining Taylor Doherty muddies up the sixth spot and beyond. Both are good for the Sharks.
Some San Jose fans lament the number of giveaways committed by Demers, but when one handles the puck one is bound to turn it over. His assist-to-giveaway ratio (.429) was behind only Marc-Edouard Vlasic (.556) on a blue line that he led in assists during the 2013-14 NHL season despite not being on the team's elite top line of the power play.
Demers has been terrible in three consecutive poor Stanley Cup playoff showings (one assist, minus-5 in 11 games played) and was even scratched for some of games. However, the Sharks as a team were terrible in two of those postseasons, and his injury in the 2011 Western Conference finals was crippling.
His biggest problem between the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs (San Jose's best showing under head coach Todd McLellan, winning one Western Confererence finals game) and the 2013-14 NHL season was being hampered with injuries. Demers was effective enough to play through 79 of 130 regular-season games, but scored just five goals and 11 assists with a minus-12 rating.
He had been quite effective in Europe during the latest NHL lockout, but the 2008 seventh-round pick only began to be trustworthy defensively for the Sharks last season. He was tied for the blue-line leader in takeaways (40) with Justin Braun, was third in hits (69) and fourth in blocked shots (107) last season, finishing third in the Examiner.com defensive quotient ranking.
As a coveted right-handed, offensively-gifted defenseman with some defensive ability, Demers is good enough for third on the depth chart of some NHL blue lines. However, is he worth $3.4 million per season when he has only begun to play? If any other team offers RFAs that much, they would also have give up picks in the first and third rounds.
If the 2015 NHL draft is as good as Wilson claims and he is as committed to the team's future as he says he is, that is more than Demers is worth. However, arbitration-eligible RFAs have a little more leverage, and likely teams were not willing to pay that much before the arbitrator's decision.
Had Demers been awarded more than $3.4 million for next season, San Jose would have had to pay it. Otherwise he would become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and no team would have to give up anything for signing him. Moreover, the deal would be for one season and the next deal would be without any RFA leverage.
His signing shows Wilson knows he has a quality young player for the fourth spot on the blue-line depth chart for the next two years. If Demers continues his growth, the Sharks have exclusive negotiating rights through June 2016 to make him part of the unit's core moving forward. If he stalls, they can cut ties before making a longer-term commitment.
As CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz noted Wednesday, this signing backs up Wilson's focus on in-house, young talent. He is rewarding Demers for battling injury and improving defensively, and those things make it worthwhile to avoid arbitration.
Meanwhile, Doherty gives San Jose another competitor for the last spot on the depth chart. The 6 ft., 7 in. and 235 lb. 2009 second-round pick has only put up five goals and 26 assists in 175 games with the Worcester Sharks, but can be trusted in his own end and should compete with Matt Tennyson, Scott Hannan, Taylor Fedun and maybe even Mirco Mueller for the final spot on the ice or at least the roster.
Mueller will only be competing for those spots more than 10 games into the season if the Sharks deem him ready to be on the ice every game. Otherwise, he will spend the season in juniors and not be able to move back and forth. Still, signing Doherty leaves them with four players capable of taking that last active spot, so depth is no longer a concern on the blue line.
The blue line is likely complete with Demers and Doherty aboard, making for a solid day in free agency for Wilson since San Jose's only real objective is keeping its own. It might also be his last significant move before training camp, so Examiner.com will be doing an analysis of all off-season moves later this week.