It’s amazing how six hours during a hot summer day can turn a team from pretender to contender, but San Jose showed it’s possible by announcing several signings during day two of the NHL’s free agency period that, at least on paper, turned the Worcester Sharks from cellar dwellers to a team that not only looks like it should be able to contend for the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Atlantic Division but has the potential to go deep into the Calder Cup playoffs.
It started off with news that wasn’t unexpected, with San Jose announcing the signings of a couple of their restricted free agents; defenseman Matt Irwin and goaltender Alex Stalock. Both are former AHL All-Stars, and while they were each expected to be rejoining the WorSharks for the upcoming season it was good to hear their signings were taken care of quickly. Also announced by San Jose was the signing of Bracken Kearns, a 6’1″ 205 pound forward who is a veteran of 407 career AHL games. Kearns is coming off back-to-back 20 goal seasons with the San Antonio Rampage, the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers. Ironically, Kearns first career AHL game was under current WorSharks head coach Roy Sommer while the organization was in Cleveland as the Barons. Kearns had an assist in that game late in the 2005-06 season.
The shocking news in the opening salvo of signings was the announcement of the return of 2009-10 Eddie Shore Award winner (AHL’s best defenseman) and AHL All-Star Danny Groulx from the KHL. After his breakout season with the WorSharks Groulx went over to the KHL for two seasons, but never saw the success he had in his year in the Sharks organization. His puck moving skills and ability to captain a power play will be welcomed back to the WorSharks line-up.
Later in day the word began to leak out that San Jose re-signed unrestricted free agent John McCarthy to a two year contract. The left winger, a charter member of the “Crazed Rats” Line (with Dan DaSilva and current San Jose forward Andrew Desjardins) which won the team’s Unsung Heroes Award in McCarthy’s rookie season, is a proven AHL commodity that has been given a chance by Doug Wilson to show he has the skills to play in the NHL full time. Reportedly the second year of McCarthy’s offer is a one-way deal, meaning that’s a make-or-break year for him in the organization.
Just when the roars from Worcester began to die down Florida Panthers unrestricted free agent Jon Matsumoto tweeted that he was now part of the San Jose organization. Matsumoto, who was the Philadelphia Flyers third round pick (#79 overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, is coming off his fifth consecutive 20 goal AHL season. He would certainly be considered one of the top AHL players available through free agency, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie ranking Matsumoto as the seventh best AHL player available in the off season. For comparison’s sake, Bombulie has former WorSharks players Benn Ferriero ranked #23 and Tyson Sexsmith at #62.
Neither the McCarthy nor Matsumoto signings have been officially confirmed by San Jose by posting time.
Tuesday, which was day three of free agency, brought some mixed news out of Worcester. The good news was the team signed enforcer Jimmy Bonneau to an AHL contract. Bonneau set the WorSharks team record last season with 22 fighting majors and was tied with Matt Pelech as the leaders on the team in penalty minutes (168). Bonneau will have to wait a little while before starting an attempt to break his own team fights record as he still has three games to serve on his season ending suspension from last season. The bad news was not all that unexpected, but it was still sad for Worcester fans to officially hear of the departure of captain Mike Moore when he signed a contract with the Nashville Predators organization. If there is a player that personifies what being a WorSharks player is supposed to be all about it’s Moore, and this writer thinks Moore’s number 8 should be raised to the DCU rafters in the near future.
Some of the following players will likely have spots in San Jose, but just throwing them together in some theoretical lines–and including players that have been qualified but have not yet been re-signed–we end up with these lines. Players with an asterisk can be sent to the ECHL because they are on either AHL contracts or are on entry level NHL deals. Players with a pound sign can also be sent back to juniors for an over-ager year.