Was Niclas Wallin Doug Wilson's First Significant Mistake?

Would Mottau have made an impact in San Jose?

Since the lockout, Doug Wilson has put together a number of excellent teams and built an outstanding franchise.  He's made his reputation on outstanding trades (Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley) and timely and shrewd free agent signings (Manny Malhotra, Rob Blake).  So when Rob Blake retired after the playoffs last season, San Jose fans had little concern that Wilson, even with a limited amount of available cap space, would fail to address the defensive depth issues in San Jose.

The fans had their target, but when Wilson decided to re-sign Niclas Wallin instead, the reaction was one of confusion, and with good reason.

The thirty-five year old Wallin signed for $2,500,000 for a single season, a $775,000 raise over his his previous deal, and a shock to most analysts around the league.  The size of Wallin's cap hit prevented Wilson from pursuing any further depth on the blueline and a signing like Willie Mitchell was certainly out of the question.  But Wilson seriously misjudged the market for defense-first, defense-only defensemen, an easy characterization of Wallin and his career average of ten points per eighty-two games. 

Below is a list of defensemen signed in unrestricted free agency and some relevant underlying stats from behindthenet.ca.

*This table is sortable by column, simply click on the header row.

10-11 Cap Hit Rel. Corsi Rel. Corsi Rk Adj. Corsi PKTOI/G
Niclas Wallin  $2,500,000 -2.9 6/7 0.61 2.51
Randy Jones  $1,000,000 -7.8 7/7 -6.14 0.7
Milan Jurcina  $1,000,000 -0.8 4/7 0.79 2.2
Mike Weaver  $900,000 -4.1 3/7 3.67 3.79
Mike Mottau  $800,000 -1.4 2/6 4.09 2.3
Paul Mara  $750,000 -9.4 9/9 -12.69 2.05
Nick Boynton  $500,000 1.8 4/8 -2.61 1.47


There are four comparable defense-first defensemen on the list, Boynton, Jurcina, Mottau, Weaver and two slightly more offensive defensemen in Jones and Mara.  In relative Corsi, Wallin ranks 4/7 on the list.  In relative Corsi rank, Wallin ranks 5/7 on the list.  After using Zonestart to adjust Corsi, Wallin ranks 4/7.

The comparison that stands out the most is 2010-2011 cap hit.  Wallin was signed for 2.5 times more than the next highest paid comparable on the list.  Wilson could've signed any two players on the list and saved at least $500,000 and possibly over $1,000,000.  Wilson didn't necessarily have to sign two defensemen, though it would have drastically improved the Sharks defensive depth.  If he would've signed Mike Mottau, better in nearly every category in 09-10, the extra $1,700,000 combined with Jamal Mayers' $600,000 may have been enough to retain Malhotra.  Even if it wasn't, using the money to improve defensive depth, say signing Mottau and Mike Weaver would have gone far in improving the 10-11 Sharks. Those two signings would have left them with an extra $800,000.

Wilson isn't the only general manager to misjudge the NHL labor market, but on a cap team with high expectations, throwing away $800,000 to $1,700,000 is the fastest way to lose any existing competitive edge.

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