Less than 24 hours after the San Jose Sharks were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks, speculation over their potential off-season moves began.
Most of the talk centered around goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and forward Patrick Marleau, both of whom are eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.
Nabokov, who earned $5.4 million this season, would be the best available goalie in this year’s free agent market, while Marleau is coming off a career-best, 44-goal season having made $6.3 million in 2009-10.
It’s believed the Sharks might part ways with Nabokov and seek a more affordable goaltender via free agency or trade. Marleau’s strong chemistry with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, on the other hand, certainly makes a case for his retention, but with nearly $15 million tied up in Thornton and Heatley it could prove too costly.
Although the Sharks have less than $37 million committed to 12 players for next season, they must also re-sign restricted free agents Joe Pavelski (who earned $1.6 million last season) and Devin Setoguchi ($1.2 million).
Both will likely at least double their salary next season – Pavelski could possibly triple his – making it almost impossible to spend big money to retain Nabokov and Marleau.
It’s also possible coach Todd McLellan and GM Doug Wilson will face scrutiny, although the San Jose Mercury News suggests their record over the past two seasons should make them “fireproof.”
Don’t, however, expect any snap decisions or sudden moves. CEO Greg Jamison told the Mercury News it’ll be “a few days” before team executives meet to discuss the club’s future.
Even though the Sharks made progress this season by advancing to the conference final for only the second time in franchise history, the perception remains this is a club spinning its wheels and due for a significant shakeup.
Last summer, Wilson swung a blockbuster deal with the Ottawa Senators for Heatley, so it’s possible he’ll try to shake things up again.
• Reports out of Russia last week claimed New Jersey Devils winger and pending UFA Ilya Kovalchuk had agreed to a one-year contract with St. Petersburg of the Kontinental League.
The New York Post, however, reported an informed source dismissed this story, although signing with a KHL club is clearly an option for Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk is also reportedly interested in staying on with the Devils, but re-signing him to a long-term deal could make it difficult to retain Zach Parise, who’ll be seeking a new contract next summer.
It’s been suggested the Devils would have to choose between Kovalchuk and Parise, but if it came to that they’d likely choose the latter. Parise was drafted by the Devils and came up through their system, not to mention he would probably be considerably cheaper to keep around.
• The Ottawa Sun reported defenseman Anton Volchenkov has put his Ottawa home up for sale, signaling his likely departure via free agency in July.
Senators GM Bryan Murray would like to re-sign Volchenkov, but the Russian blueliner is believed to be seeking $5 million per season, which places him out of the Senators’ price range.
The Sun report also claimed the Washington Capitals are seeking a shot-blocking, shutdown defenseman and are prepared to make an offer for Volchenkov. The Caps could have team captain Alex Ovechkin contact his fellow countryman in hopes of convincing Volchenkov to come to Washington.
If the Capitals, considered a Cup contender next season, are interested in Volchenkov, a phone call from Ovechkin probably won’t be necessary to sway him, although signing Volchenkov for $5 million per season could make it difficult for the Caps to re-sign all their key free agents.
• Staying with the Senators, don’t expect them to move first-line center Jason Spezza. The Sun reported there’s “no market” for the 26-year-old due to his expensive contract and style of play.
Murray probably has no interest in shopping Spezza despite the grumblings of some disgruntled Senators fans who’ve made the playmaker the scapegoat for the club’s early exit from this year’s playoffs.
As Sportsnet analyst Doug MacLean told the newspaper, quality first-line centers like Spezza are almost impossible to find and just as difficult to replace.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.