Joe Thornton

Sharks beginning to answer major 'what if'

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USATSI

Sharks beginning to answer major 'what if'

In games 48, 49, and 50 of the regular season, the Sharks began to answer the biggest ‘what if’ in franchise history.

What if they had neither Patrick Marleau nor Joe Thornton in the lineup? 

Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings was just the third time since Jan. 21, 2004 that San Jose played a game without Thornton and Marleau. Marleau, of course, famously left for greener pastures with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, while his fellow ex-Sharks captain reportedly almost joined him.

That’s according to The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, who wrote in January that Thornton “was closer to signing with Toronto last summer than many people realize.” Due to Thornton’s right MCL injury, the Sharks have gotten a small glimpse, over the last three games, of what that would have looked like.

It hasn’t been all bad. On one hand, San Jose has won the five-on-five possession battle, controlling 52.07 percent of the shot attempts and 52.21 percent of the unblocked shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick

They’ve also only scored 0.06 fewer goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.05) compared to when Thornton was playing (2.11). That’s still not all that productive, but not nearly a big enough drop to sound any alarms. 

On the other, the Sharks are just 0-2-1 in those three games. They’ve been outscored 12-8 in regulation and overtime, and their once-smoldering power play has only converted on one of its last eight opportunities without Thornton. 

Plus, their defensive play, which was already a major concern, has remained largely subpar. San Jose has still allowed far too many high-danger chances (12.32 per 60 minutes of five-on-five play) over the last three games.

Goaltender Martin Jones bailed the defense out on Wednesday, posting a save percentage (.977) above .920 for just the fifth time in his last 16 appearances. The Sharks can reasonably expect him to be better than he has since December, but routinely relying on 40-plus saves isn’t exactly
a recipe for success. 

Three games sans Thornton are not nearly enough to draw any meaningful conclusions, but some are beginning to become apparent. San Jose wasn’t scoring all that much with him, and aren’t scoring much without him, particularly on the power play. 

There’s undoubtedly a hole atop the roster, perhaps two with Marleau also gone. As long as the Sharks’ poor defensive play continues to overshadow Thornton’s injury, though, answering ‘what if’ will have to wait. 

Report: Sharks 'seeing what's out there' in wake of Thornton injury

Report: Sharks 'seeing what's out there' in wake of Thornton injury

The day after Joe Thornton injured his right MCL, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was not exactly adamant Thornton's injury would change the team's plans ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. 

"We'll process it. Probably not," Wilson told reporters on Jan. 24 when asked if his approach would change. "But don't hold me to that. You never know what comes available as you move forward."

Now, Wilson has reportedly tried to get a sense of what will come available, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman:

One of the rumblings around last weekend was that Joe Thornton’s injury had San Jose’s Doug Wilson being a little more active, seeing what’s out there. While I think he did make overtures, I’m not sure it’s a guarantee he’s going to do much. 

The Sharks are also hesitant about eating into their $20 million in salary cap space, unless they acquire "a cornerstone player," and about trading next year's first round pick, according to Friedman. 

"[E]specially not for a rental," Friedman wrote. 

San Joes does not have picks in the second or third rounds in 2018, thanks to two separate deals that acquired Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, and James Reimer at the 2016 trade deadline. None of those players were re-signed. 

Entering Wednesday, the Sharks were in a three-way tie for second place in the Pacific Division, and held a games played (49) tiebreaker over the Kings (50) and the Ducks (51).  

No timetable for Thornton's return after surgery on right MCL

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AP

No timetable for Thornton's return after surgery on right MCL

Joe Thornton underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his right MCL Thursday afternoon, and there is no timetable for his return to the lineup, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson announced Thursday evening.

Thornton sustained the injury with less than a minute remaining of Tuesday's overtime loss to the Jets. His right knee buckled in a collision with teammate Mikkel Boedker, and Thornton skated off of the ice immediately after and did not return.

The 38-year-old center tore the MCL and ACL in his left knee in April, underwent offseason surgery, but participated fully in the team's training camp and did not miss any regular season games. Thornton dealt with an injury unrelated to offseason knee surgery, but has scored 26 points in his last 28 games.

He is second on the Sharks in points (36), tied for second in goals (13),  and third in assists (23). As of press time, Thornton is tied for ninth in the NHL in goals (six) this month.

With the trade deadline a month away, Wilson told reporters on Wednesday that he didn't expect San Jose's plans to change too much in Thornton's absence. He emphasized that the Sharks will rely on the rest of the team to collectively step up to fill the hole left by Thornton's injury.

"I think we're set up. No team likes to lose a player like this for any period of time," Wilson said Wednesday. "And as I say, Joe is so inspirational to all of us that I think it's an opportunity for some people to follow his lead."

Entering Thursday night's game against the New York Rangers, the Sharks held a two-point edge in second place in the Pacific Division, and sat nine points back in the division of the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights.