Before Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton, the player most hockey fans associated with the San Jose Shark was once-captain Owen Nolan. From a portion of the 1995-96 season through the first 60 games of the 2002-03 campaign, Nolan was the grizzly face of the franchise. His rugged play and Babe Ruth-style All-Star Game goal are enduing images of an era when the team would have been quite happy with making the playoffs, rather than a disappointment once they were booted.
He’s bounced around the league since then, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild during the last six years.
Even though he’s no longer the force he once was for middling but steadily improving Sharks teams, he’s still been a fairly productive player. He might not be able to hit the 25-goal mark again like he did in a surprising 08-09 season, but he’s hovered around the 16 goal mark with notable regularity in his twilight years.
So he won’t necessarily win you a Cup, but if you’re looking for a savvy veteran who can bring some goals and grit to the table, Nolan might be your guy. When you add the bonus of nostalgia – and the fact that he still skates in San Jose during the off-season and owns restaurants and a residence in the area – his old team in San Jose might actually be the perfect destination for Nolan.
First, he improves secondary scoring. Although he was in the middle of the pack among Minnesota’s forward group in terms of quality of competition according to behindthenet.ca, Nolan still chipped in 16 goals on a weak offensive team. Logan Couture will likely replace most of the scoring leaving with Manny Malhotra, but adding Nolan’s almost guaranteed 16 tallies (he’s scored 16 goals or more in each of his last five seasons) wouldn’t hurt. Nearing his 40’s, it’s unlikely that Nolan will hit the 25 goal mark he did two years ago, but playing with San Jose (a team that is better offensively by leaps and bounds), it’s not crazy to think he could net 20.
Second, Nolan brings the Sharks another player capable of playing penalty minutes. Although Wilson brought Jamal Mayers aboard to plug this hole, we’ve discussed how poor a penalty killer Mayers actually is. While Nolan hasn’t been the most defensively sound forward at points in his career, he did play 1.42 minutes per 60 on the penalty kill, top six amongst Wild forwards.
The last main thing that Nolan brings, in my opinion, is a veteran leadership that this team lacks on the lower lines. Nolan is one of the NHL’s elder statesmen, and a trusted voice around the NHL. While he had the reputation of being somewhat of a malcontent earlier in his career, those days appear to be past him. He’d be a perfect mentor and line mate for the young McGinn and Couture, and would help to make that line a real offensive weapon for the Sharks.
The prospective addition of Nolan reminds me somewhat of the addition of Jeremy Roenick just a few years ago. Doug Wilson doesn’t have a problem bringing on older players if he feels that they can add to the team.
I have to admit that I thought the Sharks would be hit much harder by their free agent-filled summer, but it seems like it might come down to how important their goalie of the decade Evgeni Nabokov really was. If the team can land Nolan and useful positional defenseman Willie Mitchell to the mix, they’ll have a veteran-heavy squad with their eyes fixed on the Stanley Cup.
However, unlike Nolan against Dominik Hasek all those years ago, I won’t be calling that shot.