A player's contract situation is of paramount importance, as it determines not only the cost for the player but the ability to move him. A player with a small cost is easily traded and easily afforded.
One who is a free agent is easily released but generally expensive to re-sign or replace, especially if they had a good season. There also may be few or many possible replacements available in free agency or on the trading block.
All judgments about cost are estimated, of course. And there are other factors besides his recent play and contract that go into his future with team, such as age and intangibles like passion, energy, leadership, and team chemistry.
We start this with the most important 2009-10 player who is an unrestricted free agent. He was not the team's best player, but plays its most important position...
Goalie Evgeni Nabokov: B+, UFA who made $5.375 million in 2009-10
Nabby will turn 35 over the summer, and that says his best years are behind him. He has been one of the best goalies in the league over the last three seasons, which says he will command more than $5 million in free agency--remember, Christabol Huet got more than that coming off essentially one good season as a starter.
Couple that with the fact that good (not elite) goalies come out of nowhere all the time and it does not seem like a good investment to retain Nabby. You keep an elite goalie even when they are 35 unless you see a significant depletion in his game. You keep a guy who is this good and is not going to be paid more than $4 million a year, or if the team has the cap room.
You do not need to keep Nabby. True, the Sharks do not have anyone in the organisation who seems ready to take the reins, but there are a number of cheaper goalies who could be acquired that are capable of winning in the playoffs: Josh Harding, Carey Price, Dan Ellis, Pascal Leclaire, Chris Mason, and Jose Theodore.
All of them come with drawbacks: San Jose might not be able to afford Dan Ellis or Carey Price, Leclaire would have to come via trade, Harding is coming off season-ending surgery, and Theodore and Mason are the least capable of the group. But the realities of a team with a whopping 16 free agents who played for San Jose during 2009-10, including many that are going to have raises coming, require the team to roll the dice, and not one of these players is a longshot to be able to fill the void.