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.”

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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.”

There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens

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AP

There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens

The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens could not be more different in terms of tradition. But, on the ice this season, they couldn’t be more similar.

Both teams have placed their faith in a goalie that wears #31. The top defensemen on each team, Brent Burns and Shea Weber, are 32 and signed until 2025 and 2026, respectively. Tomas Hertl and Alex Galchenyuk are 2012 first round picks playing on the wing after being drafted as centers. Tomas Plekanec and Joe Thornton are favorites on the wrong side of 30, who may head elsewhere next summer.  Heck, both teams miss defenseman David Schlemko, who San Jose lost in the expansion draft and was eventually traded to Montreal, where he hasn’t yet played due to injury.

And both have struggled mightily so far. San Jose and Montreal have combined to win just two games, and sit 29th and 30th, respectively, in goals scored this season. It’s hard to imagine the Sharks and Canadiens scoring so little with all of that talent, but they can’t bank on good fortune, either.

Something’s got to give when the two face off at SAP Center tonight. After tonight, one team will feel much better about themselves, and the other team will be much closer to hitting the panic button.

That’s where the critical difference lies: Montreal’s already hit it, and San Jose probably won’t.

Last season, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien in February. Seven months after essentially siding with Therrien and trading star defenseman P.K. Subban, Bergevin ended Therrien’s time in Montreal, too. He surely can’t fire another coach, but a Galchenyuk trade is reportedly a possibility, according to TSN.

The Sharks, on the other hand, likely won’t do any of that. Even with the burden of high expectations in his tenure, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s never traded away a star player or fired a coach midseason. Even though Vegas pegs Peter DeBoer as the odds-on favorite to lose his job, it’s hard to envision Wilson making a change behind the bench during the year. He didn’t in 2015 when Todd McLellan seemed to lose the room, so why would he now?

Patience is what truly separates the Sharks and Canadiens, and that difference will likely determine how each front office reacts if their teams continue to struggle. Wilson’s shown a willingness to swing for the fences under these circumstances. He acquired Joe Thornton in 2005, after all.

But if you’re waiting on Wilson to take a page out of Bergevin’s book and fire the coach or trade away a key piece approaching their prime? Don’t hold your breath.

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders is one with which Sharks fans have become all too familiar.

The Sharks held a decided 41-23 edge on the shot count, but trailed 3-1 on the scoreboard. Since 2005, no team in the league has lost more games (59) in which they shot 35 or more times, and held their opponent to 25 or fewer shots.

No, your instincts haven’t deceived you over the Joe Thornton era: San Jose has lost a lot of games where they’ve otherwise outplayed their opponent. Of course, they’ve won plenty of those games too. More often than not, in fact, winning 72 of 131 times under those circumstances.

Frustration under those circumstances became readily apparent in the second period on Saturday, when Joe Pavelski broke his stick over Thomas Greiss’ net. The captain had plenty of reason to be unhappy, as his goalless drought to start the season has mirrored his team’s inability to finish at even strength.

So far this season, only Dallas and Montreal have scored on a lower percentage of their shots at even strength than San Jose, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both the Stars and Canadiens, unsurprisingly, are seventh in their respective divisions. The Sharks are sixth in the Pacific, thanks only to the still-winless Coyotes.

This early in the season, bad results can mask a strong process. They can’t finish, but the Sharks have been, statistically, one of the league’s best puck possession teams at even strength. That can happen over such a short stretch, but that’s easy to lose sight of when the team’s sitting in the division’s basement.

Right now, the Sharks just aren’t scoring enough at even strength, even as they’re playing well elsewhere. The power play’s begun to find an identity, particularly on the Kevin Labanc-led second unit. The penalty kill hasn’t allowed a goal since allowing three in the season opener, and have climbed all the way to 13th in the league.

If the Sharks continue to play this way, the goals, and wins, should come. They may not, of course, especially if Peter DeBoer struggles to find combinations that click for more than a game at a time. But eventually, the results should align with the process.

Saturday night was “one of those games” that have been surprisingly common in recent Sharks history, but it shouldn’t be chalked up as anything more than an amusing anomaly. Sometimes, one team is better, and still finds a way to lose.  

Sometimes, it truly is that simple.