On the second day of NHL free agency, the San Jose Sharks finally signed their first two unrestricted free agents (UFAs). That leads the pictured list of news to come out for the team on Wednesday, July 2—most of it in about an hour.
Both UFA signings are complimentary players, yet their acquisitions are telling about San Jose's direction for the 2014-15 NHL season. Neither move runs counter to the rebuilding commitment general manager Doug Wilson has been touting, but both players will struggle to play regularly unless more talent is moved out than in from here on.
At the very least, the moves say Wilson is not satisfied with the level of NHL talent on the Sharks. Bringing in UFAs capable of being part of the rotation is on its face prudent.
However, the signing of John Scott has the makings of a travesty and may say the most about Wilson's view of the team. When the general manager spoke of a lack of toughness in May, he did something about it: 2014 NHL draft picks with net presence and now signing the hulking (6'8", 250 lb), well-known tough guy with a record of dirty play in free agency.
Scott may as well not be on the ice when the team is attacking. He can defend but is not a great skater and thus would not seem to fit San Jose's emphasis on speed.
Perhaps a nearly season-ending injury to Tomas Hertl and series-ending injury to Marc-Edouard Vlasic against the Pacific Division rival and Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings has Wilson believing he needs to scare teams into not targeting his stars. Even so, Scott is not the right choice.
There are more skilled and younger tough guys that fit the system better, including some current Sharks. He is almost certain to take ice time from Adam Burish and/or Mike Brown, and there are other players able to dispense justice already on the roster: Raffi Torres, Tommy Wingels and Andrew Desjardins will be three players in the everyday lineup capable of playing that role.
Why waste a roster spot on a 31-year old? Better yet, why give a player like Scott a roster spot at all? The NHL should be trying to move on from head-hunting hitters and San Jose has added players with bad histories in each of the last two years.
Signing another young defenseman with very limited experience minutes later was more in keeping with the stated direction Wilson wants to take the Sharks. Taylor Fedun is a 26-year old defenseman with four career NHL games—just like a player he will be fighting for a roster spot with, 24-year old Matt Tennyson. Both show the ability to play both ends, even in their brief time in the league.
They could form a strong platoon for the final blue-line spot during the 2014-15 NHL season, allowing the younger Taylor Doherty and Mirco Mueller to develop more before having to be relied on at the highest level. Tennyson would seem to have the edge being more used to the system, teammates and environment. He should get in at least 60 games if he is healthy and with back-to-back nights, injuries and the odd seven-defensemen lineups, Fedun could still play in over 40 games.
San Jose also traded a third-round pick in the rich 2015 NHL draft for prospect Tye McGinn. He is brother of former Shark Jamie McGinn and has had exactly five points in 18 games in each of the last two seasons. He figures to fight for a spot on the roster or at least bolster the team's forward reserves. The 2010 fourth-round pick could thus help now and develop into a key piece of the future puzzle, suggesting some desire to have support ready for the young core sooner.
Two solid but debatable moves added to one that seems terrible and no other free agency action cannot make any review of the collective moves positive. Then again, teams looking to rebuild generally will have a lack of activity this time of the year leading to poor reviews of their activity.
Beyond those 69 minutes of news action came earlier speculation on CSN Bay Area about whether Joe Thornton might be traded as well as the way the blue line shook out prior to Wednesday's activity. Kevin Kurz pointed out the play-making center could finally partner with shooter Rick Nash and rejoin Dan Boyle and Dominic Moore through a trade to the New York Rangers.
All of this is moot if Thornton is not just claiming he will not go anywhere for leverage or public relations. If his hard-line stance has any give, the Eastern Conference champions might be a great option. Even then, the team needs to get something worthwhile in return—perhaps Chris Kreider and a draft pick?
Kurz also explored whether the "C' could be taken from Thornton, whose brother and agent John has yet to comment on Examiner.com's question of whether Joe would accept losing the captaincy. If he and Patrick Marleau are okay with taking a step back and want to remain, they have earned that option by having no-movement clauses in their contracts and there should be no pressure on or from the Sharks to move them.
San Jose could already consider this a true rebuild by merely dumping three active blue-line veterans, leaving only those younger than 30. However, Kurz said in his evaluation of the unit that the team has not ruled out bringing back UFA Scott Hannan.
The 35-year old would probably be an insurance policy, playing mostly a reserve role unless none of the young defensemen are ready for regular NHL action. Nevertheless, his presence would run counter to the team's focus on youth and speed and could simply take up a role that could develop a younger player.