Monday, July 30, 2012

NHL free agency profiles: Should San Jose Sharks sign Petr Sykora? -

The initial NHL "free agent frenzy" lasted less than a week beyond the official start of the 2012-13 contract season. According to the up-to-the-moment list of free agent signings, 64 players were signed in the first 13 hours. Action in the next six days that included a holiday for the 23 U.S. teams slowed but was still an impressive 68 signings.

The next two weeks had a total off 66 signings between them. Last week had just 23. But it was expected that the Rick Nash trade would force those teams that did not get him to look to free agency and spur growth.

Instead, there were just two signings on Monday, July 30: Mark Fraser re-signed with Toronto and Guillaume Desbiens going from Calgary to Vancouver. They collectively make about as much noise as as a leaf blowing in the wind.

The San Jose Sharks were one of those teams that has to look to alternatives to Nash, and their need for a scoring line forward has been detailed in previous columns. Of the top options left according to the updated free agent list Monday, Petr Sykora might be the best fit for San Jose's limitations.

At 35 years old and just one year removed from a season in which he split time between the Czech and Kontinental professional hockey leagues, scoring 13 points in 13 games and 15 in 28, respectively. The year before that, he suffered a concussion 14 games into the season and was waived once healthy, finishing with three points.

That means even though he had 44 points in a full 82-game season (and just 40 penalty minutes), he will not be getting a long-term deal. Last season, he signed for just one year, $650,000. The Sharks may be able to add a two-time Stanley Cup champion and five-time finalist for third-line money, and only be committed to him as long as they are to the aging core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle.

The drawback is Sykora does not make plays defensively. Last season, he had just 19 hits, 16 blocked shots and 27 takeaways to 36 giveaways. That finished ahead of only Sharks forward Martin Havlat in hits per game and behind everyone in blocks and takeaways per game.

As a skilled, left-handed right winger that skates well, he would be much like a past-his-prime Havlat. Putting him on the third line makes no sense given his defending deficiencies. But the Sharks could get the right mix of talents by putting him on the first line with Thornton and Marleau and Havlat, Pavelski and Couture on the second (right to left). Clowe could play the third line and stay healthier, giving San Jose three potent lines.

That being said, the Sharks do not get the edge they are seeking and in fact lose physicality on both scoring lines. If they run out of better options (for budgetary or other reasons), signing Sykora could work, but there are better alternatives to examine further the rest of the week.

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