By Mary Walsh
Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks announced the resigning of defensemen Jason Demers and Taylor Doherty. The team gave Demers a two year contract and Doherty one year. The moves solidified the team’s current blue line and add some depth for the future. It might not be enough to improve their offseason PuckDaddy grade from an F, but it is a start.
Last season was a bounce-back season for Demers, who performed below expectations the two seasons prior. Those seasons were marred by injury but also found him often benched as a healthy scratch. His improvement this past season could be attributed to better health and the changes on the coaching staff that occurred before the last lockout season. All of the team’s young defensemen have shown improvement since Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson joined the team.
Demers’ career path could be considered a cautionary tale about why you do not want to rush players, especially defensemen, into the NHL. He started playing in San Jose when he was just 21 years old, one season after being drafted. He got off to a great start with the team, posting 21 and 24 points his first two seasons, then bottomed out with 13 in his third season and just three in the fourth. Perhaps his sophomore slump came late, and he took a lot of heat in those two poor seasons for not repeating earlier success. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ coaches have shown slowly increasing faith in him and his performance has improved accordingly. His 34 points last season were a reminder of why expectations were so high for him.
Demers’ role as an offensively-minded defenseman will always make him prone to risk-taking. Much as fans would like to see all the players, forwards and defensemen alike, play a diligent defensive game, playing well at both ends of the ice is harder than it sounds. Well, obviously it sounds pretty hard, barring teleportation powers. Additionally, fans don’t actually enjoy perfect defensive games– those tend to be low-scoring and uneventful. So that’s the cake- eat it or leave it. If Jason Demers is supposed to keep an eye out for scoring chances and even create some, his defensive game might on occasion leave something to be desired.
His contract is eminently reasonable. Looking at the defensemen around Demers in the standings, his salary is lower than most players of equivalent value to their teams. Whether measuring by points or time on ice or age, his $3.4 million per year is a good deal for San Jose. It is such a good deal that one wonders if it isn’t a setup for a trade. The last Shark to file for arbitration (TJ Galiardi) only got one year out of the team, but he was not signed and traded either. For the sake of San Jose, we can hope the Demers contract is not just a set up to move him out.
Taylor Doherty was drafted by the Sharks in the second round in 2009. This year, he will enter his third full season with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. Last season saw him miss a number of games due to injury, and he has yet to play in the NHL. There was a little more buzz around his name a season ago, but the Sharks obviously think he is worth another look. Just 23 years old, 6’7″, he has not been heating up the score sheet but last season showed some improvement over the season before. With a little down tick in the +/- column (from +2 to -2), he improved his points total from 6 to 10, playing 23 fewer games. He has a strong shot that he could probably use more often.
Doherty, like Demers… and Braun, and Burns, is a right-handed shot. That is worth noting as such defensemen seem to be in short supply elsewhere.
The Sharks’ offseason is looking like a long slow one, but that is what Doug Wilson promised at the end of last season. If Wilson is serious about not wanting to bring any veteran player in who may supplant younger players, that remaining cap space ($6.145 million, per CapGeek.com) will continue to sit there and taunt those who had hoped for any exciting new additions.