Sharks

Thornton, Marleau will have options if they don't return to Sharks

Thornton, Marleau will have options if they don't return to Sharks

There’s nothing new to report regarding the futures of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose, and it’s likely that it will remain quiet until the conclusion of the expansion draft on June 21, at the very least.

It will be a couple more weeks, then, before the will-they-or-won’t-they return question gets answered.

While the Sharks have to decide whether they want to bring one or both of the franchise cornerstones back, and at what cost, Thornton and Marleau will surely have options regardless of what San Jose potentially offers. Thornton is just one season removed from finishing fifth in voting for the Hart Trophy, while Marleau is coming off of a 27-goal season. Both want to keep playing and both will undoubtedly be in the NHL next season, in teal or otherwise.

Here are some potential landing spots for the pair if they don’t end up returning to the Sharks.

Joe Thornton, Nashville Predators

After coming so close to winning the Stanley Cup, and likely to be a contender for the next several seasons, the Nashville Predators might be looking for that extra piece to put them over the top. Ryan Johansen (who idolized Thortnton growing up) is firmly entrenched as the top center, but center and captain Mike Fisher is a pending free agent that may be headed for retirement. If Fisher hangs them up, the Predators will surely be in the market for a centerman to replace him.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that Thornton’s parents love Nashville, and often show up on the road when the Sharks visit the Music City. Maybe they could all celebrate a new contract on the rooftop at Tootsie’s.

Patrick Marleau, Anaheim Ducks

Marleau was open to joining the Ducks early in the 2015-16 season when he was disgruntled, something many longtime Sharks fans still like to ignore. The Sharks’ all-time leading scorer in a Ducks sweater? Impossible! 

If he prefers to stay close to home and the Sharks aren't an option, though, moving down the coast to Anaheim would obviously be a logical choice. The Ducks may be looking for a scoring winger after the expansion draft, too, as the speedy and durable Andrew Cogliano could be a target for the Golden Knights. Guess who else is speedy and durable?

Joe Thornton, Dallas Stars

The Stars are under new/old leadership, as head coach Ken Hitchcock is returning to his former home where he won a Stanley Cup in 1999. Hitchcock and Thornton seem to have a good relationship, as they’ve been together for three international tournaments, and this season they were spotted playfully jawing at one another before a Sharks morning skate in St. Louis.

Further, after the 2014-15 season when the Sharks were open to trading Thornton, the Stars were one of the teams interested. Although they’re coming off of a rough season Dallas still has some quality pieces in place, and with new goalie Ben Bishop it may have fixed its biggest issue. The Stars now need some defensemen to put in front of Bishop, but adding a depth center like Thornton to play behind Tyler Seguin would add more punch to their lineup, too.

Patrick Marleau, Vegas Golden Knights

Another option for Marleau to stay close would be the expansion Golden Knights. Vegas has an exclusive 48-hour window to speak with unrestricted free agents on June 18, before other NHL teams are permitted, so it could get a head start on making Marleau a generous offer. Adding a big-name guy like Marleau would help to give the team instant credibility, as hockey fans in Sin City surely know his name.

Frankly, the Sharks probably wouldn’t be all that upset if that happened. If Marleau signs with the Golden Knights during that exclusive window, Vegas isn't allowed to take anyone else off of San Jose’s roster.

Joe Thornton, Boston Bruins

Could a return to the team that drafted him and subsequently traded him to San Jose be in the cards for Thornton? Hockey-wise, it might be worth the Bruins to inquire about the services of their former captain, even if they are a bit cap-strapped.

While Patrice Bergeron is the top center in Boston and in the prime of his career, David Krejci had a bumpy season and young center Ryan Spooner is rumored to be on the trading block after he was a healthy scratch for a couple games in the first round of the playoffs.

Patrick Marleau, Toronto Maple Leafs

There may not be a head coach in the NHL fonder of Marleau than Mike Babcock, who pushed for Marleau’s somewhat surprising inclusion on the 2014 Canadian Olympic team. Recall back in Feb. 2015, too, when the then-Red Wings coach quipped: “Patty is a good, good man. If [the Sharks] don’t want him, just call us.”

Toronto is a team on the rise with some talented up-and-coming forwards. Perhaps bringing in a veteran of Marleau’s stature to push some of the younger depth guys for playing time makes sense, creating some internal competition among the group.

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.