After suffering a significant left knee injury late in the season and undergoing surgery on April 24, Joe Thornton remains on schedule with his rehab.
According to general manager Doug Wilson, Thornton is still expected to be ready by the start of the 2017-18 season after he suffered torn MCL and ACL ligaments in a game in Vancouver on April 2, yet bravely returned midway through the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.
“Jumbo is doing extremely well,” Wilson said. “He’s been [at Sharks Ice] every day, looks really good. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll be ready and fit to start the season. The work that he’s put in already, that’s pure Jumbo. He loves the game. I see him every day here at the rink.”
Whether Thornton, a pending unrestricted free agent, returns to the Sharks is still unclear. Wilson wasn’t offering much in terms of where negotiations stand with Thornton or fellow pending unrestricted free agent Patrick Marleau.
“As far as the negotiations, some of it depends on where the overall cap number is going to be, and obviously…there are some other key contracts that I have to try and get in place. As far as both Patty and Jumbo, we’ve had some dialogue. That will continue and remain private.”
The salary cap for the 2017-18 season has yet to be released by the league. According to several reports, the NHLPA was set to vote on Friday on whether to raise the cap to $75 million from its current $73 million.
Wilson’s top priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions. The general manager said he’s “making progress” with both, “but there’s still some work to be done.” They can officially sign on July 1.
It is likely at this point that Thornton and Marleau will both wait until June 25 at the earliest before doing anything, as that is the date that other teams are permitted to speak with unrestricted free agents. According to multiple sources, there are no backroom-type “handshake deals” in place for either of the two franchise cornerstones that would allow the Sharks to protect extra players in the expansion draft.
As reported here previously, Thornton would still prefer a three-year contract, and is likely seeking at least $5 million per season. Marleau is also seeking a contract of at least three years, according to a source. Both players will turn 38 before the start of the regular season, so whether they would be able to command those sorts of deals on the open market is difficult to ascertain.
There are important days ahead for all involved parties. Uncertainty abounds, at least for now.
“When it comes to making hockey decisions we have to make the decisions under this cap system that makes sense,” Wilson said. “They’ve meant a lot to us, they mean a lot to us.”
“We’re exploring, and trying to do everything we can to make the right decisions for this franchise. They have choices also, obviously.”