The San Jose Sharks started the free agency period Friday by focusing on their own players, signing restricted free agent forward Tyler Kennedy to a two-year contract, re-signing unrestricted free agent defenceman Scott Hannan to a one-year deal and formally announcing a five-year contract with star centre Logan Couture.
With little room under the shrinking salary cap and an underwhelming free-agent class, general manager Doug Wilson tried to keep together as much as possible of the group that went to Game 7 of the second round before losing to Los Angeles.
“We’re trying to continue on what we began at the trade deadline or just prior to it of maintaining our identity of attacking with speed,” Wilson said. “Everybody that we added or re-signed or brought back kind of meshes in with that.”
Kennedy, acquired during the draft from Pittsburgh for a second-round pick, will get $4.7 million over two years. Hannan, brought back at the trade deadline for a second stint in San Jose, received a $1 million contract.
Couture signed a $30 million deal that keeps him from being a restricted free agent next summer and buys out three years of unrestricted free agency while keeping him under contract through 2018-19. He also has a limited no-trade clause.
“I want to be with the Sharks for a long time,” Couture said. “The five-year extension was something myself and the Sharks were both comfortable with. We went from there and the deal came together really quickly. It was very easy to do. I want to be in San Jose and they know that. From what I picked up, they want me out there. It was very easy.”
The Sharks also agreed to a deal with goalie Alex Stalock, who will compete with Harri Sateri to be the backup to Antti Niemi. Last year’s backup, Thomas Greiss, signed with Phoenix.
The deals leave the Sharks temporarily over the salary cap, according to CapGeek.com, but they could get relief if injured forward Marty Havlat begins the season on long-term injured reserve after off-season double sports hernia surgery.
“We will have room and assets to add players in season,” Wilson said. “One of the things of a day like today is you can do some things and add some pieces, but something has to go out. We don’t want to have a piece come in that forces a piece out. We’d rather wait and be patient and add something that just adds to our team in season.”
The Sharks also announced that Brent Burns will remain at forward next season. A former All-Star defenceman, Burns gave San Jose a big spark last season when he moved to forward, where he teamed with Joe Thornton on an effective line that helped San Jose reach Game 7 against Los Angeles.
Burns had nine goals and 11 assists in 23 regular-season games as a forward and added two goals and two assist during the playoffs. Wilson said the move will be at least for this upcoming season although he envisions Burns still playing the point on the power play.
“We saw how good he can be and how he can impact games as a forward,” Wilson said. “It’s only going to get better. He’ll train for that this summer, giving him that clarity and focus. I think he is a dominant power forward in this league.”
With Burns staying at forward, Raffi Torres returning after signing a deal last month, the addition of Kennedy and the arrival of 2012 first-round pick Tomas Hertl, the Sharks have depth at forward heading into next season.
That group is led by Couture, who has emerged as one of the Sharks’ top players the past two years in all facets of the game. He is the team’s most reliable goal-scorer, draws the toughest defensive matchups and has become a leader in the locker room.
Couture has led the team in goals the past two seasons, scoring 31 in 2011-12 and 21 during this lockout-shortened campaign. He is tied for seventh in the NHL with 84 goals over the past three seasons.
Couture has also been a strong post-season performer during his career, helping the Sharks make back-to-back runs to the conference final in 2010 and 2011 and leading the team’s playoff charge this season. He has 17 goals and 16 assists in 49 career playoff games.
“It’s been a good four years so far in San Jose,” Couture said. “I’ve learned a lot from our veteran players and our coaching staff. I hope to continue to improve as a player. I think I still have more to give. Hopefully, I can do that.”
Kennedy, a former 20-goal scorer in Pittsburgh, adds to that group and will likely slide in on one of the top three lines.
Hannan’s return adds depth on defence that makes Burns’ move to forward easier. After playing only four regular-season games with San Jose, Hannan played in all 11 playoff games in place of the injured Jason Demers, posting four assists during the run as he reunited with old defensive partner Brad Stuart.
“As an older player, I just came in and played my game,” Hannan said. “It’s such a great organization and a great group of guys. It seemed like an easy fit. It helped playing back there with Stuey, something we were both familiar with. I was just glad I got to play and was able to get a chance.”