Sunday, July 28 brought an end to the fourth weekend of NHL free agency that began on the fifth. It was also the ninth straight day of stagnancy, with only four players signing with a team they did not end the season with. Among them, only Jaromir Jagr was more than a fourth-line forward or reserve.
The stagnancy has been much longer for the San Jose Sharks, with not even the re-signing of their own player since the sixth day of free agency. Being hard against the salary cap has limited their options: Cap Geek shows them about $400,000 over their allowed payroll.
However, they would also be able to create almost $1 million in wiggle room with roster moves that would only have to last until the season starts. Then Martin Havlat can be put on long-term injured reserve that could give them over $4 million in cap space with the same roster currently listed on Cap Geek depending on how long the forward is out.
The good thing is that enough teams are in a similar payroll pinch because the players agreed to give up another eighth of the pie in the new collective bargaining agreement signed in January. Even with some teams being able to amnesty players they have bought out, there is about 10 percent less money to work with this year than last.
This has created less activity in free agency, which benefits teams like the Sharks unable to make any moves. Only two of the players listed among the seven best options they could hope to add have even been signed since the last signing they had.
Still, it is unlikely San Jose can land anyone good enough to fill a scoring line role. Tomas Hertl is the only player in the system capable of contributing in that significant a role in 2013-14. Since the best they can hope for is that he adequately replaces Havlat, the margin for error is razor-thin at the position.
Because they still have four elite forwards spread over three lines, the Sharks are okay at the position if Hertl is ready to contribute a point a day on a line with either Joe Thornton or Logan Couture. If one player goes down they are forced to play Matt Pelech or Bracken Kearns.
If that player is a scoring-line forward, top defenseman or goalie, they are in bigger trouble. They will rely on these seven players to carry this team until Havlat’s future comes more into focus. If he were out all of the 2013-14 season, the team could have almost $4 million in cap space to absorb a trade.
That would allow the team to absorb any contract in the NHL over if the deal is made near the trade deadline. If the team is doing well enough and does not look like what general manager Doug Wilson described as a 57-minute team in a 60-minute league, he may elect to give the team one more push in the last year he will likely be able to retain this core.
As many as three of of the seven players they rely most upon will be lost in the next year. This is their time, turning it into a make-or-break season.
If the team does well, they can be deadline-buyers to replace one of the seven in the event of an injury or give any healthy unit an upgrade. At the same time, some of them could be gone to restock for the future if the team struggles leading up to the Olympic break.
Until that decision needs to be made, the heavy lifting will be done by the seven core players.