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Will free agent frenzy land a keeper?
Players and teams poised to wheel & deal
6/30/10 - By Mike Lee -

It’s only one of the most vital positions on a hockey team, but as of now, the Sharks are mum on who they plan to fill their goaltending vacancy with. When San Jose announced last week that Evgeni Nabokov and his $5 million+ salary ask were not in the Sharks plans, a big void was created in net. It’s a big hole to fill, but don’t fret for Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson. His options are plentiful. Question is, how will it all play out?

As is the case with almost every team in the league, the salary cap situation will play a role in how Wilson solves his goaltending mystery. According to CapGeek.com, the Sharks have $8.965 million to play with, but also only have 16 roster players under contract.

There are farm hands that factor in to the equation, and Wilson has not been averse to calling on the proving grounds in Worcester to fill roster spots, but even that does not guarantee the most economical solution.

Take for instance the case of netminder Alex Stalock, who is regarded as the Sharks goaltender of the future. If San Jose were to elevate him to the NHL level, he comes at a cost of $850k. Stalock also had a fantastic year last season, his first as a professional. He’s not considered a realistic candidate for the starting job in San Jose , and it’s unlikely that the Sharks would let him sit as a backup, so look for Stalock to continue to season in the AHL.

San Jose already has a more economical solution in Thomas Greiss, who appeared in 16 games for the Sharks last season, earning 7 wins to go along with 5 losses. His save percentage and goal against average were slightly lower than Nabokov’s, but the real question about Greiss is how he would fare as the number one. He appeared in 57 games for Worcester the year before, where he had average numbers (30-24-2, 2.47 GAA, .907 Save%).

Greiss has solid skills, and has quietly waited for his opportunity to become the man in San Jose . Given his salary, he’s the odds on favorite to take on the responsibility. Wilson could still bring in a free agent to compete for the spot, but you don’t typically spend big dollars on a goaltender to have him sit. San Jose ’s cap situation also doesn’t make that very realistic.

Wilson ’s other internal options don’t favor farm hands Tyson Sexsmith or Harri Sateri. Sexsmith fell out of favor in Worcester last season after Stalock emerged as the go to guy. His $1.005 million cap hit also make more experienced free agents more appealing.

If you’re going to shell out $1-$2 million to create a training camp battle for the top spot on the depth charts, then there are a couple of decent options available to Wilson.

Former Nashville Predators netminder Dan Ellis was traded to Montreal on Tuesday in a deal that sent Andrei Kostitsyn to Tennessee , but Ellis becomes a free agent on Thursday morning. Montreal has his rights for 48 hours, but that’s as meaningful as Evgeni Nabokov signing with Philadelphia .

Speaking of Nabokov, his situation became more interesting on Wednesday after Philadelphia re-signed Michael Leighton to a 2-year deal. That doesn’t mean Nabokov is out of the picture in Philly, but it does cloud things a bit.

Marty Turco is another name that keeps coming up in any mention of San Jose and their netminding vacancy, but it’s unlikely that San Jose is going to pony up the dollars that Turco is seeking. His decline in Dallas and his age also make him a stretch for Wilson . With that said, Wilson ’s biggest weakness is his penchant for aging former superstars that are on the downside of their careers.

Turco would love nothing more than to show up his former employer, especially with a team in the same division. He’s openly stated that he would prefer to remain in the Pacific, but only San Jose has a need for goaltending help.

For that to realistically happen, Turco will have to pull a Manny Malhotra and sign with the goal of playing for a cup, not getting rich. Hand it to Wilson , when it comes to wooing players whose careers are sun-setting. The allure of going out a winner is an attractive lure.

Antero Niittymaki is another intriguing option for the Sharks. Wilson could land him for under a $1 million, and he has plenty of experience. He’s also one of the younger options available. Turco is almost 35, Chris Mason is 34, Jose Theodore is 33, and Martin Biron is 32. Like Ellis, Niitymaki is a spry 30 years old, so he creates a longer-term option for the Sharks.

At his price tag, Niittymaki also makes more sense if Wilson simply wants to bring in some competition to push Greiss and Stalock.

In any case, we have the mystery solved by noon on Thursday. The free agent signing period officially opens at 9am on the west coast, but the glut of free-agent options gives Wilson some breathing room.



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