The San Jose Sharks are taking care of some offseason work, re-signing restricted free agent Rudolfs Balcers to a two-year contract. Kevin Kurz of The Athletic reports that the deal will carry an average annual value of $1.55MM. Sharks GM Doug Wilson released a short statement on the deal:
We were excited to bring Rudolfs back to our organization last season and he became an important part of our lineup in what was his first full NHL season. He showed that he is a versatile forward who can provide offense for our club as a Top-9 forward. We are happy to have him.
Balcers, 24, was part of the 2018 trade that brought Erik Karlsson to the Sharks, but never found his groove with the Ottawa Senators. In 51 games there, he scored six goals and 17 points, failing to secure a spot even in a rebuilding roster. When he landed on waivers at the beginning of this year, the Sharks happily brought him back to the organization that drafted him in 2015.
In San Jose, he finally was given an opportunity to play significant minutes, and rewarded the team with 17 points in 41 games. By the end of the season, Balcers was playing more than some of the team’s more prominent forwards, mostly because of his responsible defensive nature. There is offensive potential still there to unlock, but Balcers could also be a valuable bottom-six piece because of his two-way ability.
A reliable bottom-six isn’t really something the Sharks have had in recent years, and something that will be key to any sort of plan that GM Doug Wilson has. The team has so much cap space tied up in aging players that they will need a breakout from someone like Balcers to really get them back into contention. He doesn’t need to score 100 points, but he must provide some excess value on the $1.55MM hit he now carries. That’s a risk, but a calculated one on a player that they’ve known for some time and obviously believe in.
The team has also re-signed Joachim Blichfeld to a one-year contract. Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News tweets that the two-way contract is worth $750K at the NHL level. Wilson provided a statement on that deal as well:
Joachim was a top player in the American Hockey League last season, leading the Barracuda in goals and points. He has shown over his career that he is a goal-scorer at each level, and with the experience, he has gained in his short time at the NHL level, we feel that he is ready to compete for a spot in our lineup next season.
Blichfeld, unlike Balcers, still spent the majority of this season in the minor leagues. The 23-year-old forward suited up just five times for the Sharks, scoring a single goal but earning himself a suspension along the way. He’s another late-round pick, selected 210th overall in 2016, but has shown glimpses of a huge offensive ceiling. In 79 career AHL games, Blichfeld has scored 28 goals and 54 points. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given his success in the WHL, where he posted 114 points in 68 games during the 2018-19 season.
Like Balcers, he’ll be given an opportunity to play in the bottom-six next year, but it certainly isn’t a guarantee that he stays there all season. He could show that his offensive upside is good enough to warrant some powerplay time or even skate next to more skilled linemates further up, or could end up back in the minor leagues. Blichfeld is still waiver-exempt for another season, meaning he could face a turbulent season bouncing up and down between levels.