Sharks

Sharks where Thornton's 'heart is, and where I'm happy'

Sharks where Thornton's 'heart is, and where I'm happy'

SAN JOSE – Off of the ice, Joe Thornton is a notoriously chill dude. There isn’t a whole lot that phases the veteran center and future Hall of Famer, who appears to go through his non-hockey playing life with a remarkably even-keeled attitude. 

We’re talking about the kind of guy that signs a one-year, $8 million contract sitting on a lawn mower. Just as the latest example.

Thornton couldn’t help but admit on Sunday, though, that all of the interest he received as an unrestricted free agent knocked him for a loop.

“There was a lot of interest, to be honest. I was kind of shocked that there was the interest that there was,” Thornton said. “It was crazy. Throughout the whole thing I talked to [GM] Doug [Wilson] a bunch, I talked to our owner, Hasso [Plattner]. Everybody has been so great to me and my family. It’s been crazy.”

But despite a reported 17 teams ringing his or his agent’s phone, Thornton implied that he never really had any plans of leaving the place he’s called home for the past 11-and-a-half seasons.

“It was nice getting courted by all these teams. I felt bad saying, ‘hey, I’m going back to San Jose,’ but that’s where my heart is and that’s where I’m happy,” Thornton said.

What Thornton isn’t so happy about is longtime teammate Patrick Marleau leaving town on a three-year, $18.75 million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thornton, who turned 38 on Sunday, made no secret that he wanted Marleau to return to the Sharks. Instead, a report from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said that the Sharks’ final offer to Marleau was two years and $10 million, much less than he got in Toronto.

Indications are that Thornton would have settled for less than the $8 million he got had the Sharks found a way to ink his buddy Marleau, too.

“Joe was so flexible with his contract, he agreed a couple days ago on the contract with some different versions depending on the circumstances,” Wilson said. “I can’t say enough about Joe being committed to making it work to keep the group together. … Joe deserves a huge compliment for what he was willing to do.”

Thornton said: “I was in constant talks with Patty, texting and calling each other. Obviously I’m bummed that Patty’s not coming back. But I think he’s going to do great in Toronto and I think it’s going to be a good fit. Patty is going to be a Shark for life, and he’s going to go down as the best Shark of all time. I’m just happy for him and his family. As far as the Sharks are concerned, everybody has got to just pick up the goal scoring a little bit and move on.”

* * *

That he settled for a one-year deal, rather than the three years he was seeking when the process began, is evidence that Thornton is confident that he’ll be fully recovered from a left knee injury that required surgery on April 24. Although he’s not 100 percent now, Thornton said he’s “pretty darn close.” 

Thornton plans on skating in Switzerland in about two weeks, which is his typical offseason routine as his family relocates to his wife’s home country for about a month.

Thornton had less time to train last summer, due to the short summer from the Sharks advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and the World Cup of Hockey in September. He said he’s focusing on his legs right now.

“I haven’t trained my legs like this ever in my career, so my legs are going to be stronger than ever,” said Thornton, who had seven goals and 43 assists last season.

If everything goes well, it could be another one-year deal this time next year.

“Working with Doug, I think one year works at this point of my career. Just really go year-by-year and see how I feel. I feel like I’ve got a lot left in the tank, and hopefully after this deal I’ll keep signing. I felt comfortable with it, the team felt comfortable with [it]. That simple, I guess.”

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

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USATSI

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

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USATSI

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.