Despite possessing no major vacancies in their projected lineup for next season, the San Jose Sharks were one of the more active teams on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday.
General Manager Doug Wilson inked veteran defenseman David Schlemko to a four-year deal worth $2.1 million annually and later in the afternoon he signed top-6 caliber forward Mikkel Boedker to a four-year deal worth $4.0 million per season.
While it wasn't terribly surprising for the Sharks to add a veteran top-9 forward with top-6 skill, the need wasn't monumental and in free agency, one would have thought players like Boedker would sign elsewhere for more money.
Boedker is an eight-year NHL veteran, but the speedy winger is still only 26-years old. Last season between Arizona and Colorado, the native of Denmark finished with 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points. The season prior Boedker scored 14 goals in just 45 games before getting hurt. While detractors will note his poor possession numbers and miserable plus/minus, he has played his entire career on bad teams.
Two years ago Boedker was on pace for nearly 30 goals with Arizona. Coming to San Jose, he is very likely to finish with at least 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points. That total would be just four points more than his career high of 51 (which he has reached twice before). In theory, he has the skill to eclipse 60 with the talent around him in San Jose.
Boedker Addition Means Marleau Subtraction?
Shortly after the Boedker signing was announced, there was mainstream media speculation that this addition might mean that the Sharks will look to move Patrick Marleau. Both players are left-handed skill guys with speed and the Sharks would be wise to move out some salary to give them some cap flexibility.
However, Marleau is not going anywhere. The Sharks can move lesser players like Tommy Wingels and Brenden Dillon if they feel they need to shed some salary. Certainly Marleau hasn't been producing to the rate of his contract, but the veteran winger, who will be 37-years old next season, is still a key cog to this team.
Marleau still possesses elite speed, and considering the Pittsburgh Penguins beat San Jose in the final due in large part to superior speed, the Sharks moving out one of their faster forwards doesn't quite make sense. Why sign a speedy forward in Boedker just to move out Marleau? Furthermore, the career Shark is just 19 goals short of 500 for his career. Having him score that 500th goal in any other sweater than a Sharks sweater would be just plain wrong.
Sharks fans would not take kindly to Wilson trading Marleau with one-year left on his deal. He is a near sure-fire lock to score that 500th goal next season and he can still play a vital, albeit lesser role.
With Boedker, Marleau Can Bounce Back
My reaction to Boedker's signing is that Marleau will be able to have a bounce back year. No. 12 couldn't be any more motivated regardless of where he plays in the top-9. Not only is Marleau nearing in on that 500 milestone, but some of his best seasons have come in contract years. Furthermore, Boedker deepens the Sharks lines, giving Marleau more talent to work with around him.
It is certainly possible that Boedker will play signficant minutes on a line with Marleau, but even if he doesn't, it will allow whatever line Marleau finds himself on, to be more dangerous. Last season, Marleau started out of the gate with Logan Couture as his center. Unfortunately Couture missed most of the first half with injury and Marleau had to transition back to a full-time top-six center. It is a role he hadn't played in quite some time. Marleau was able to play well enough to keep the Sharks afloat, but he clearly showed that he is no longer a top-six pivot.
In the second half of the season, Marleau played mostly third-line center once Couture returned. Marleau did a lot of good things in this spot, but he played mostly with Matt Nieto and Joel Ward on his wings, not exactly the same as playing with Couture or Joe Thornton. Naturally, the point production for Marleau at even strength declined.
Through it all, Marleau still managed to score 25 goals and 48 points. While a second-straight season with a plus/minus around minus-20 doesnt look great, given his projected linemates going into next season, I fully expect 25-30 goals, and 60 points, with a plus/minus much closer to an even rating.
Line combinations will undoubtedly be tweaked throughout the season, but when the Sharks are healthy, Marleau's worst possible linemates will be Boedker and Ward. That is a significant upgrade over Nieto and Ward. Furthermore, my projection is that Marleau will be a third line winger. I envision him playing quite a bit with Tomas Hertl as his center and the incredibly promising rookie Timo Meier, who looks like he could be Hertl 2.0, on the opposite wing.
Marleau, Hertl and Meier are all top-six caliber skill guys who should be able to feast on mismatches throughout the season. With Wilson adding Boedker to the mix, the Sharks have yet another skilled scorer in their top-9 that will allow Marleau to have a bounce back season regardless of linemates.
Wherever Marleau ends up playing, first, second or third line, he should be able to remain on the wing, where he has played most of the second-half of his career. Plus, San Jose may even have the depth now to bump him back up to Thornton's left wing. He hasn't played consistently with Thornton at even strength in a number of seasons, but that might be the ideal spot for him considering San Jose's new found depth with Boedker. Marleau being just 19 short of 500 goals in a contract year next to Thornton? That sounds like a recipe for one final 30 goal season.