Analysis: Sharks should give Thornton three-year deal he desires

Analysis: Sharks should give Thornton three-year deal he desires

Sharks center Joe Thornton has a history of signing three-year contracts, currently on his fourth such deal right now, taking him through the conclusion of this season.

And, he reportedly wants another one, as agent and brother John Thornton recently told ESPN.

There’s probably no rush to get it done from either side. For Thornton's part, he enjoys playing in the Bay Area, and with two young children it’s no surprise he’d like to remain where the sun’s always shining, yet the NHL spotlight isn’t quite so bright.

The team looks like it’s set up well to contend for a few more seasons after this one, too, making it even more appealing for the future Hall of Famer still seeking his first championship. Young players are busting down the door and taking jobs, upgrading the lineup. Martin Jones looks like a franchise goalie, and will likely get a nice extension in the offseason. Brent Burns is the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy, and Thornton’s good buddy/beard brother isn’t going anywhere after signing an eight-year contract. Thornton and coach Pete DeBoer seemingly have a strong relationship.

From the Sharks’ perspective, waiting to sign Thornton until the offseason would be a benefit in terms of the upcoming expansion draft. There’s likely enough of a trust factor between Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson (despite their well publicized differences in 2015) that they could agree in theory to an extension, allowing Wilson to protect other players he would like to protect from Las Vegas.

But the more important question from Wilson’s perspective is, does three more years of Joe Thornton make sense for the organization?

At 37 years old, Thornton is obviously getting up there. His play this season is a bit concerning, too. He leads the Sharks with 24 assists (tied with Burns), but still has just two goals – both into an empty net. He's on pace for just 53 points, which would be his lowest total since he was a teenager in Boston.

The top power play unit, which Thornton has led to prominence for so many years, isn’t producing, either. Frankly, it looks too deliberate and predictable lately, with Thornton the passer, Burns the shooter, and Joe Pavelski trying to find some room between the circles for a deflection. The team’s 14-for-99 stretch since Nov. 1 is not all Thornton’s fault, of course, but those slick passes that lead to easy tap-ins on the man advantage have been virtually absent.

Still, there are more reasons for the Sharks to sign Thornton – who has said more than once he can see himself playing into his 40’s – than to let him walk.

First is Tomas Hertl’s status. The Sharks have missed the player that was their third line center at the time of his latest injury on Nov. 17, as Hertl finally was starting to look like an NHL pivot. When San Jose chose the Czech native in the first round in the 2012 draft, the thinking went that he would be able to replace Thornton at the center position some time in the future.

But considering Hertl suffered yet another right knee injury on what looked to be an innocent looking play, there’s reason to wonder if he will ever be healthy and capable of playing at 100 percent. The latest procedure was at least the third Hertl has had on the knee, and even he said on Dec. 27 that there is “no guarantee” it will put a stop to future problems, as was the intention.

There isn’t much coming in the immediate future at the center position, either. Chris Tierney is a nice piece, but he’s more suited to play in the bottom six. Danny O’Regan – perhaps the best player on the Barracuda that hasn’t been recalled yet – is still too much of an unknown. Pavelski could play center and many times on his line with Thornton he is playing in the middle, but he’s no spring chicken himself, turning 33 this summer.

Replacing Thornton, even at this late stage of his career, would be impossible for a team that perpetually expects to compete for a Stanley Cup.

The less obvious reason this deal needs to get done is that Thornton is still beloved in the Sharks’ dressing room, and is a vital part of the refreshed culture.

Recently when working on a story about rookies Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, I was struck by something when I asked both of them separately how they’ve been welcomed into the Sharks’ dressing room. The first name each of them mentioned was Thornton’s, and with it came a huge grin. 

“They’re all welcoming,” Labanc said, before adding: “Jumbo is probably one of the loudest guys in the locker room. He’s really welcoming.”

When Logan Couture was asked earlier this year about the team making the rookies take a solo lap around the ice in warmups prior to making their NHL debuts, he said: “I think when Jumbo tells them to go do it, they're not going to say no." That says something about the inner-workings of the dressing room, and the role Thornton still plays. 

The thought by many after the disastrous 2014-15 season – and that admittedly includes myself – was that there was no way the Sharks would be able to remove the captain’s ‘C’ from Thornton’s jersey and keep him around without negative repercussions off the ice. The culture was in need of a true and swift reset, and that wouldn’t happen with Thornton around. 

In fact, though, the opposite has happened. Thornton has remained himself, and the team and the dressing room is better off with Pavelski accepting the captaincy and thriving in the role. As boisterous and outgoing as he is when the cameras or microphones aren’t pointed in his direction, Thornton was simply never cut out to be the unofficial team spokesman, and it showed. It’s not a stretch to suggest that last season’s Western Conference championship doesn’t happen without the changing of the guard at captain.

Thornton might be struggling to get going this season – probably at least in part due to the short summer and World Cup – and the Sharks are going to need more from him than they’ve gotten so far. At some point, either this season or in the future, he’s going to have to accept a lesser role. That could take some coaxing from DeBoer, but Thornton has been on board with all of the head coach's decisions so far.

That's something that can be dealt with in time, though. For now, the Sharks should give Thornton his three-year deal. It’s much too risky for them not to.

Sharks still searching for answers after 3-2 loss to Red Wings

Sharks still searching for answers after 3-2 loss to Red Wings

SAN JOSE – On paper, the Sharks’ problems over their six-game losing streak may appear easy to fix – especially since they had previously won six games in a row and were sitting atop the Western Conference standings just before the slide.

But according to forward Logan Couture, things are more complex than that.

“If it was easily fixable, we wouldn’t be on a six-game losing streak,” he told the media matter-of-a-factly following Team Teal’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. “We’ve got to fix it. There are certain things that we need to do better.”

From not having enough jump from the drop of the puck to giving up too many breakaway opportunities, the Sharks look like a very different team than they did a couple of weeks ago. The loss to Detroit is the third consecutive game the Sharks have been beaten by a team out of playoff contention. While the team is obviously banged up and trying to get healthy before the playoffs, the current dip in their performance can’t continue.

“We’re too good of a team to go on a slide like this,” Couture said. “These losses at home are not good, especially this one tonight. I thought we’d come with a better effort.”

San Jose did put up a fight late in the game, finding the back of the net twice to cut Detroit’s 3-0 lead to 3-2. It was an effort Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to see much earlier in the contest.

“I didn’t think we had great energy until the third period,” he said. “I thought we had desperation in the third that we needed for 60 minutes. We only came with 20 of it.”

Detroit, on the other hand, was able to capitalize on its breakaway opportunities right from the first shift of the game. Dylan Larkin got the Red Wings on the board just 38-seconds into the contest.

“We gave them way too much respect. We sat back too much,” Evander Kane summarized. “We’ve got to get there first, we’ve got to get there quicker.”

Since this is the longest losing streak the Sharks have been on this season, the press asked DeBoer if there was a mental component creeping into the team’s game. To DeBoer, no matter what it is, the team can only grind out of it.

“I don’t know if it’s mental,” he admitted. “It’s work. It’s desperation. I don’t know if there’s a complacency about where we’re sitting in the standings or what. But, we’ve got to get out of it. And the only way to get out of it is to work out of it.”

[RELATED: What we learned from Sharks' loss to Red Wings]

They have precisely six games left in the regular season to get that work in.

“If you’re going to go through something like this you’re better off doing it now than in two weeks,” DeBoer said. “But we’ve got to get healthy and guys have to get to another level here. It’s that time of year.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from disappointing loss to Red Wings


Sharks takeaways: What we learned from disappointing loss to Red Wings


SAN JOSE – With both the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights losing their respective contests Monday evening, the Sharks had a prime opportunity to gain some ground in the Pacific Division standings. But their efforts proved to be too little, too late as Team Teal dropped their sixth straight game, 3-2, to the Detroit Red Wings.

Here are three takeaways from Monday’s game:

The offense didn't get going in time

As the Sharks have done for much of the season, they outshot their opponent.

While trailing 1-0 partway through the second stanza, the Sharks got some really good zone time and began putting extra pressure on Detroit netminder Jonathan Bernier. Nevertheless, San Jose couldn’t find the back of the net. Even as Sharks coach Peter DeBoer threw the line combos into the blender, they didn’t light the lamp until Evander Kane’s third-period goal. At that point, the Red Wings already had a 3-0 lead.

To be fair, Bernier made some pretty good saves, especially the toe stop on Gustav Nyquist’s back-handed attempt on the power play. But the Sharks are going to be facing much tougher goalies than him during this last stretch and into the playoffs. With just six games left in the regular season, the offense needs to get going right from puck drop.

Shaky defense

San Jose’s all-around defensive play has been shoddy as the Sharks' losing streak has gone on, and Monday’s game was another example of that.

There were neutral zone turnovers and hiccups this blue line wasn’t making at the midway point of the season when they really found their game and began stringing wins together. Part of the defense’s troubles is an offshoot of how the whole team is banged up and not playing at 100 percent. It’s also hard to ignore that Radim Simek’s presence is greatly missed.

Whatever the solution is, San Jose needs to find it fast. A team can’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs without playing a tighter defensive game.

Level of concern?

Yes, this team is dealing with injury and illness and is trying to get healthy for the playoffs. And after taking last Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks into overtime, it really looked like San Jose was going to start turning things around. However, Monday's game looked like a step backward – against a team that has been eliminated from playoff contention, no less.

After Friday’s overtime loss in Anaheim, Timo Meier told the media it was better to go through these struggles now as opposed to once the playoffs start. While you can’t disagree with that logic, the continued losing streak can’t be good for the team’s confidence.