The Best Free Agent Signings of the Offseason, And Why the Sharks Should Have Signed Them, Part 4
(Editor’s Note. Don’t forget to vote in the poll or comment with your thoughts!)
In this series of articles, I will be taking an in-depth look at what I consider to be the 20 best value free agent signings of the offseason, in no particular order. For each signing, I will first detail what makes the signing a good one from a neutral perspective, and then I will discuss why the signing would have benefitted the Sharks (at the same contract terms unless others are discussed). There is no guarantee these players would have even come to the Sharks, in fact in some cases it is doubtful, but we find it interesting to analyze signings made this offseason through a Sharks lens. Enjoy!
Now for Part 4. We start with an honorable mention.
ZENON KONOPKA – C – OTTAWA SENATORS
Age. 28. Height. 6’0″. Weight. 209 lbs. Shoots. Left.
Contract. 1 year, 0.7M, Ottawa Senators.
2010-2011 Stats. 82GP, 2G, 9PTS, -14 plus/minus, 307PIM.
Zenon Konopka is not an impact player by any means, but he is a unique center who will add good depth to the Ottawa Senators’ fourth line at a reasonable price. He brings a lot of toughness, as he was second in the NHL in fighting majors last season. He is also an elite faceoff man, having won 57.7% of his faceoffs last season, and he was a regular on the Islanders penalty kill last season, averaging 1:32 of PK time per game. But what makes Konopka so unique is that he brings all of these qualities, the faceoff dominance, truculence, fighting, penalty killing, and improved depth, in one single package, and at a great price. That’s what makes him different from all the other fourth liners.
For instance, Konopka was the only player to rank top five in penalty minutes and faceoff percentage last season, and it’s not even close. That’s a rare accomplishment, which makes Konopka a rare player. Not an impact player, but a rare one with a combination of faceoff prowess and truculence that no other player has. Of course how much value you place on those two secondary areas of the game is another story, but you would have to consider them next to worthless to not think getting a top five contributor in both for 0.7M is a good deal. Even those like myself who don’t value fighters very highly have to admit there is something intriguing about a player like this, for his faceoff ability alone if nothing else, and that he represents very good bang for the Senators buck at 0.7M a year.
WHY THE SHARKS SHOULD HAVE SIGNED HIM
One Sharks-specific reason that stands out beyond the whole package is Konopka’s faceoff ability. The way things are now with Desjardins slated to replace Nichol as the Sharks fourth line pivot, the Sharks are set to lose some of their depth faceoff prowess on the bottom line. (Because Desjardins is not as good on faceoffs as Nichol). With Konopka on the roster, this would not have been the case. Desjardins could still have played on the team, just as a 4th line winger instead.
The broader reason for signing Konopka is, again, the unique package he brings. He would have added greater fourth-line depth to the Sharks, and improved the team in all the areas already mentioned (faceoffs, team toughness, penalty minutes, etc.) If those sound like small contributions only, that’s because by themselves many of them are. He’s not being paid to be an impact goalscroer. He’s just a player who’s sort of a do-it-all guy when it comes to the little things, and a do-none-of-it guy when it comes to the big things. That’s why you don’t play him twenty minutes a night. But he is someone you can play six to ten minutes a night, who will win some important draws for you, block some shots on the PK, intimidate and distract the opposition, fight, and then maybe win a few more faceoffs. Nothing earth-shattering, but for the right price, he would have make a nice subtle addition to the Sharks.
It’s also important to note that the Sharks are a team that has some big-name players who, despite their skill, tend to go invisible for stretches, even though they do play 20 minutes a night. Maybe the best way to characterize what Konopka could have brought to the Sharks is that he makes his presence felt every game in less than half the ice time. Some of it, like the staged fights, may not amount to much, but you would never accuse him of not doing his part to push the team cart forward. And having someone like that can be helpful to a team, especially in the playoffs.
TOMAS VOKOUN – G – WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Age. 35. Height. 6’0″. Weight. 216 lbs. Catches. Right.
Contract. 1 year, 1.5M, Washington Capitals.
2010-2011 Stats. 57GP, 22W, 28L, 5OT, 6S0, .922SV%, 2.55GAA.
When a starting goaltender signs for less than 2M, it’s pretty obvious why it’s a great signing from a neutral perspective. For that reason I will go straight into why the Sharks perspective.
WHY THE SHARKS SHOULD HAVE SIGNED HIM
Last season’s slight decline in performance aside, Tomas Vokoun is an elite goaltender in the NHL, considered by some to actually be the league’s best goaltender. Assuming his dip in dominance last season was an aberration, and not indicative of a career decline in fitness or health, Tomas Vokoun is a better goaltender than Antti Niemi, and would have given the Sharks an even better chance at winning the Cup. With teams like Phoenix looking for goaltending last July 1, it’s possible Sharks current back-up Anterro Niittymaki could have been traded, making room for a Vokoun-Niemi goaltending tandem on the Sharks. Of course, if you can’t find a taker for Niittymaki, you probably can’t add Vokoun, unless you’re willing to waive Niittymaki down to the minors, but that would negatively affect the Sharks reputation as an organization. Even if you can unload Niittymaki, there is no doubt that Antti Niemi would not be happy with a new goaltender being brought in from outside the organization to take over the starting role from him.
These are all elements one would have to consider before making the decision to add Vokoun, whether improving the skill of your team on the ice is worth upsetting a player off the ice, and possibly the dressing room as an extension of that. Still, given that Niemi himself consented to being brought in from outside the organization to replace Niittymaki, who at the time was slated to be the starter himself, Niemi should not have too much of a problem with the same thing happening to him. At least, he shouldn’t voice his problems with it, or exude discontentment in the locker room, unless he wants to come off hypocritical. Niittymaki did not cause any problems when Niemi was brought in to replace him, so it’s reasonable to hold Niemi to the same standard. By this logic, assuming you can make room for Vokoun by unloading Niittymaki, adding Vokoun should have been possible without creating any significant off-ice problems. Whether Vokoun is still a superior goaltender to Antti Niemi is a whole different issue, which one would, of course, have to make sure of before signing him as well. But assuming he still is, this is a move that, despite its innate complexities, could have helped the Sharks under the right circumstance. (This is also assuming Vokoun would have taken the same discount to sign with the Sharks out west as he took to sign with Washington. That is far from a guarantee).
Written by Shark Circle
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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 of our series on the offseason’s best signings.
A look at potential new NHL rules for next season, with our analysis.
Analysis of the Winnipeg Jets signing of ex-Shark Kyle Wellwood.