Analysis: Sharks should give Thornton three-year deal he desires

Analysis: Sharks should give Thornton three-year deal he desires

Sharks center Joe Thornton has a history of signing three-year contracts, currently on his fourth such deal right now, taking him through the conclusion of this season.

And, he reportedly wants another one, as agent and brother John Thornton recently told ESPN.

There’s probably no rush to get it done from either side. For Thornton's part, he enjoys playing in the Bay Area, and with two young children it’s no surprise he’d like to remain where the sun’s always shining, yet the NHL spotlight isn’t quite so bright.

The team looks like it’s set up well to contend for a few more seasons after this one, too, making it even more appealing for the future Hall of Famer still seeking his first championship. Young players are busting down the door and taking jobs, upgrading the lineup. Martin Jones looks like a franchise goalie, and will likely get a nice extension in the offseason. Brent Burns is the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy, and Thornton’s good buddy/beard brother isn’t going anywhere after signing an eight-year contract. Thornton and coach Pete DeBoer seemingly have a strong relationship.

From the Sharks’ perspective, waiting to sign Thornton until the offseason would be a benefit in terms of the upcoming expansion draft. There’s likely enough of a trust factor between Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson (despite their well publicized differences in 2015) that they could agree in theory to an extension, allowing Wilson to protect other players he would like to protect from Las Vegas.

But the more important question from Wilson’s perspective is, does three more years of Joe Thornton make sense for the organization?

At 37 years old, Thornton is obviously getting up there. His play this season is a bit concerning, too. He leads the Sharks with 24 assists (tied with Burns), but still has just two goals – both into an empty net. He's on pace for just 53 points, which would be his lowest total since he was a teenager in Boston.

The top power play unit, which Thornton has led to prominence for so many years, isn’t producing, either. Frankly, it looks too deliberate and predictable lately, with Thornton the passer, Burns the shooter, and Joe Pavelski trying to find some room between the circles for a deflection. The team’s 14-for-99 stretch since Nov. 1 is not all Thornton’s fault, of course, but those slick passes that lead to easy tap-ins on the man advantage have been virtually absent.

Still, there are more reasons for the Sharks to sign Thornton – who has said more than once he can see himself playing into his 40’s – than to let him walk.

First is Tomas Hertl’s status. The Sharks have missed the player that was their third line center at the time of his latest injury on Nov. 17, as Hertl finally was starting to look like an NHL pivot. When San Jose chose the Czech native in the first round in the 2012 draft, the thinking went that he would be able to replace Thornton at the center position some time in the future.

But considering Hertl suffered yet another right knee injury on what looked to be an innocent looking play, there’s reason to wonder if he will ever be healthy and capable of playing at 100 percent. The latest procedure was at least the third Hertl has had on the knee, and even he said on Dec. 27 that there is “no guarantee” it will put a stop to future problems, as was the intention.

There isn’t much coming in the immediate future at the center position, either. Chris Tierney is a nice piece, but he’s more suited to play in the bottom six. Danny O’Regan – perhaps the best player on the Barracuda that hasn’t been recalled yet – is still too much of an unknown. Pavelski could play center and many times on his line with Thornton he is playing in the middle, but he’s no spring chicken himself, turning 33 this summer.

Replacing Thornton, even at this late stage of his career, would be impossible for a team that perpetually expects to compete for a Stanley Cup.

The less obvious reason this deal needs to get done is that Thornton is still beloved in the Sharks’ dressing room, and is a vital part of the refreshed culture.

Recently when working on a story about rookies Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, I was struck by something when I asked both of them separately how they’ve been welcomed into the Sharks’ dressing room. The first name each of them mentioned was Thornton’s, and with it came a huge grin. 

“They’re all welcoming,” Labanc said, before adding: “Jumbo is probably one of the loudest guys in the locker room. He’s really welcoming.”

When Logan Couture was asked earlier this year about the team making the rookies take a solo lap around the ice in warmups prior to making their NHL debuts, he said: “I think when Jumbo tells them to go do it, they're not going to say no." That says something about the inner-workings of the dressing room, and the role Thornton still plays. 

The thought by many after the disastrous 2014-15 season – and that admittedly includes myself – was that there was no way the Sharks would be able to remove the captain’s ‘C’ from Thornton’s jersey and keep him around without negative repercussions off the ice. The culture was in need of a true and swift reset, and that wouldn’t happen with Thornton around. 

In fact, though, the opposite has happened. Thornton has remained himself, and the team and the dressing room is better off with Pavelski accepting the captaincy and thriving in the role. As boisterous and outgoing as he is when the cameras or microphones aren’t pointed in his direction, Thornton was simply never cut out to be the unofficial team spokesman, and it showed. It’s not a stretch to suggest that last season’s Western Conference championship doesn’t happen without the changing of the guard at captain.

Thornton might be struggling to get going this season – probably at least in part due to the short summer and World Cup – and the Sharks are going to need more from him than they’ve gotten so far. At some point, either this season or in the future, he’s going to have to accept a lesser role. That could take some coaxing from DeBoer, but Thornton has been on board with all of the head coach's decisions so far.

That's something that can be dealt with in time, though. For now, the Sharks should give Thornton his three-year deal. It’s much too risky for them not to.

After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go


After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go

The Sharks’ playoff outlook is a lot rosier after winning all four of their games last week. They are now four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings in the second Wild Card spot, and three points up the Anaheim Ducks, who are third place in the Pacific Division.

Those are four-point and three-point improvements, respectively, over those same spots last week. The Sharks even picked up ground on the first-place Vegas Golden Knights, and are eight points back of the Pacific’s leaders, with two head-to-head matchups remaining.

That’s not quite close enough to warrant inclusion in a look at the playoff picture headed into the week, but could be next week if San Jose continues to make up ground. Otherwise, it’s still worth examining where the Sharks stand in regards to the Pacific and the Wild Card.

San Jose Sharks (Second in the Pacific, 89 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket:  3/20 vs New Jersey, 3/22 vs Vegas, 3/24 vs Calgary

Outlook: Over the next two weeks, the schedule really starts to become difficult. San Jose has only two games remaining against teams on the outside looking in, and is just 2-6-2 in its last 10 against teams currently in a playoff spot. If that trend continues, the newfound breathing room could start to disappear rather quickly.

Anaheim Ducks (Third in the Pacific, 86 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/21 at Calgary, 3/23 at Winnipeg, 3/25 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Ducks have now won three in a row, including next Sunday against the red-hot New Jersey Devils. They’ll play four of their final five road games in the next nine days, and all but one of their opponents is not in playoff position. Anaheim’s just 15-14-7 away from the Honda Center, though. With the fewest games remaining of any playoff team, the Ducks will help to move up any further.

Colorado Avalanche (First Wild Card, 86 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/20 at Chicago, 3/22 vs Los Angeles, 3/24 vs Vegas

Outlook: Give it up for surefire Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche, winners of three of four last week. Other than a slip-up on the second night of a back-to-back in Nashville, Colorado was outright dominant, outscoring opponents 16-7. A midweek matchup against Los Angeles could create some Wild Card separation.

Los Angeles Kings (Second Wild Card, 84 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/19 at Minnesota, 3/20 at Winnipeg, 3/22 at Colorado, 3/24 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Kings picked up points in three of four, including on both nights of a back-to-back. Their schedule really picks up this week, as they’ll face three playoff-bound teams from the Central on the road. The struggling Stars remain on their heels, although the Kings have a game in hand.

Dallas Stars (Ninth in the West, 84 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/20 at Washington, 3/23 vs Boston. 3/25 vs Vancouver

Outlook: Is Dallas in the middle of a Lone Star letdown? We wrote last week that a difficult schedule could create openings for the teams chasing them and boy, did it ever. The Stars went 0-2-2 on the week, and picked up just one point against the lottery-bound Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. They’ll surely relish a matchup against the Canucks in six days, as it’s their only remaining game against a non-playoff team.

St. Louis Blues (10th in the West, 83 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/21 vs Boston, 3/23 vs Vancouver, 3/24 at Columbus

Outlook: For the second straight season, it’s not quite time to stick a fork in the St. Louis Blues. Yes, they are once again in the playoff hunt after trading one of their best players at the trade deadline, and won three out of four to move with in a point of the final Wild Card spot. The Blues have now won four of five, and still have an uphill climb ahead. After last season, is it ever safe to rule them out?

The Departed: Calgary Flames (11th in the West, 80 points)

This section is reserved for teams that have fallen out of the playoff picture since our last look at the playoff picture, and the Calgary Flames have earned(?) the inaugural (dis)honor. The Flames failed to keep the door to the playoffs ajar thanks to a 7-4 loss to the Sharks on Friday, and it slammed shut after a 4-0 loss in Sin City on Sunday. They have to jump three teams and cover four points of ground to earn a Wild Card spot. The latest stretch stings, but the Flames will likely look on a four-game, post-trade deadline losing streak as when their playoff hopes burned out.

Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win


Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win

VANCOUVER --Timo Meier's second goal of the game snapped a third-period tie and the San Jose Sharks beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc each had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Hertl scored into an empty net with 25 seconds remaining for the Sharks, who are 7-2-0 in their last nine games.

Nikolay Goldobin, Alex Edler and Bo Horvat scored power-play goals and Sam Gagner had two assists for the Canucks, who lost their sixth consecutive game - their longest losing streak of the season.

Goldobin's goal at 10:48 of the first period snapped a scoreless streak of 222 minutes, 57 minutes for the Canucks, who had been shut out in three consecutive losses.

The Sharks had allowed just two power-play goals in their previous 17 games, but gave up three against Vancouver. The only other time San Jose allowed three power-play goals in a game was in an opening-night loss to Philadelphia.

Aaron Dell, making his first start since Feb. 22, made 28 saves for the Sharks. Vancouver's Jacob Markstrom stopped 25 shots.

Meier put the Sharks ahead at 6:07 of the third with a shot from the faceoff circle that went under Markstrom's blocker. The Canucks came close with just over six minutes left, but Hertl scooped a loose puck off the goal line.

Vancouver scored twice with the man-advantage in the second period to tie the game at 3.

The Sharks took a 3-1 lead just 1:47 into the period when Meier tipped in Brenden Dillion's shot from the point.

Horvat started Vancouver's comeback, scoring just 6 seconds into a power play. Dell stopped Gagner's slap shot but Horvat jammed home the rebound. Edler tied it with a blast from the point at 11:48. It was his first power-play goal in 88 games dating to Feb. 17, 2017.

The Sharks scored 1:10 apart in the first period to erase a 1-0 deficit.

Goldobin opened the scoring when he took a pass from defenseman Derrick Pouilot and snapped a shot from the face-off circle that sailed over Dell's shoulder. The San Jose goalie was screened by Jake Virtanen.

Labanc tied it on a power play at 14:48. Joe Pavelski's shot was stopped by Markstrom, but he managed to get his own rebound and passed it to Labanc at the side of the net.

The Sharks went ahead on Couture's 29th of the season at 16:08. He took a feed from Hertl, fought off a check by Virtanen and chipped the puck past Markstrom.

NOTES: Defenseman Chris Tanev returned to Vancouver lineup for his first game since breaking his leg Feb. 8 against Tampa Bay ... San Jose center Melker Karlsson went to the dressing favoring his right leg early in the first period after blocking a shot. ... San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic left in the second period after being hit in the chest by a puck. ... The Canucks' franchise record for a scoring drought is 234 minutes, 52 seconds, set March 16-24, 2016. ... The longest goal drought by a team in the expansion era is 262 minutes, 3 seconds, set by the Minnesota North Stars from Jan. 28-Feb. 6, 1988.


Sharks: vs. New Jersey on Tuesday night.

Canucks: at Vegas on Tuesday night.