For salary cap reasons, it was clear at season's end that the San Jose Sharks would need to make a difficult choice between its two potential unrestricted free agents, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov or ex-captain Patrick Marleau. Two days ago, when general manager Doug Wilson informed reporters that Nabokov wouldn't be offered a contract, their course was set. Thursday, they confirmed it. Marleau will be back, agreeing to a four-year contract extension with the team. At the same time, the Sharks signed restricted free agent (and playoff scoring star) Joe Pavelski to a four-year extension as well.
Marleau is 30; the Sharks are the only organization for which he's played; and his wife is from the area. Accordingly, he didn't want to go anywhere. If the Sharks had gone the other way and opted for Nabokov, the thinking was that he wouldn't move far as a free agent - perhaps just down the highway to Los Angeles. So the Kings will need to go in a different direction in order to land a front-line forward - Ilya Kovalchuk is looking more and more likely. The Sharks, meanwhile, shed a small contract the other day in moving Brad Staubitz to Minnesota. Their search now will focus on a new No. 1 goaltender to replace Nabokov and possibly get them to where he couldn't - the Stanley Cup final.
Marleau didn't even give them much of a home-town discount - a $6.9 million average over four years on a contract worth $27.6 million, pretty good coin considering he didn't want to leave anyway. As for Pavelski, the numbers are more modest - $4 million over four years, about right for a player who hasn't quite had a breakthrough yet, but is projected as a possible captain for the squad now that Rob Blake has retired.
Clearly, the Sharks believe in their core group. Other than the change in goal, they will return as mostly the same team swept away by the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference final last season. And Nabokov gets a chance to go elsewhere and prove that he wasn't the problem; and that he can part of someone else's solution.