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Sharks free up cap space for Phil Kessel?

08.28.09 at 3:36 pm ET
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Interesting roster movements made on Friday afternoon by the San Jose Sharks, who have been rumored to be in the Dany Heatley derby this summer while looking to peddle Patrick Marleau after another underachieving postseason. Sharks GM Ron Wilson dealt away a pair of middle-class hockey players to the Vancouver Canucks for two young skaters, and freed up roughly $4.65 million in salary cap space for the upcoming season in the process.

Defenseman/power play specialist Christian Ehrhoff has two years left on his contract at $3.1 million per year and forward Brad Lukowich has a $1.567 million cap hit in his final season before unrestricted free agency, and the two players San Jose got in return (University of Minnesota forward Patrick White and AHL player Daniel Rahimi) aren’t expected to be big role players for the upcoming season.

So the Sharks freed up $4.667 in salary cap space while heading into the last few weeks of the off-season, and require at least two more forward spots to round up their NHL roster among the top 12-forwards for next season. It doesn’t take a noted puckologist to assume that Dany Heatley and Phil Kessel are two of the best skill forwards still hanging out there in hockey limbo, and the Sharks have been rumored to be in the Kessel run at several different points over the last few months.

“This trade speaks to the confidence we have in the young players coming up through our system who have earned the right to compete for a spot on this team,’€ said Sharks GM Doug Wilson in discussing the deal. ‘€œIt also creates some flexibility in our team payroll for potential future transactions as the season progresses and adds two more talented players to our reserve list that can help this organization in the future.’€

The $4.667 million in payroll flexibility also fits in roughly with what Kessel was expected to be looking for in a multi-year deal this summer while rehabbing right shoulder surgery. That figure is far from the $5 million per year Jeff Carter-type money that some assumed Kessel and agent Wade Arnott were chasing after, and is pretty close to what Kessel comparables like David Booth and Alexander Semin are currently making in terms of player salary.

 The 21-year-old sniper is expected to miss all of October while recovering fully from the rotator cuff/labrum surgery, and will be hard-pressed to match his 36-goal output from last season given the injury situation. During his recent participation in the Team USA Orientation Camp, Kessel indicated that he’d like something in the neighborhood of a three-year deal and expected that his deal would be done by the beginning of the NHL season on Oct. 1. Adding to the intrigue is that Kessel’s name doesn’t appear on a quick afternoon perusal of the team’s roster on www.bostonbruins.com, though that doesn’t mean anything definitively (Kessel was added back to the online roster by the early morning hours of Saturday).

Arnott told WEEI.com in an interview earlier this summer that Kessel was willing to be “creative” in terms of contract discussions, and that his client had directed him to get a deal done with the Bruins before entertaining offers from other teams.

The $4.65 million is probably right around where Kessel expected his payday to be at the beginning of this summer, as his numbers and service time are pretty much right in lock-step with Florida Panthers forwar David Booth. Booth signed a six-year, $25.5 million contract this summer amid the current hockey economy that’s going to pay him $4.25 million annually for the next six seasons.

The chances of Kessel getting awarded that kind of salary from the Bruins are “slim and none” as long as fellow teams avoid the option of signing the talented young restricted free agent to an offer sheet — but perhaps that’s about to change with the Sharks payroll shed on Friday afternoon. Wilson told reporters that the money was freed up to make moves “as the season progresses”, but it remains to be seen whether that means a new home for Kessel riding shotgun with Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Read More: Doug Wilson, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,
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