It's rare that one team's fan base will pay attention to a 41-year-old in NHL free agency, let alone two. But it's rare a pair of 41-year-olds have had as much impact upon one team as Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have had on the Sharks.
Thornton and Marleau, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 1997 draft, respectively, are the longest-tenured and highest-scoring players in San Jose history. They've played a combined 2,555 games and scored a combined 2,157 points.
The pair currently are unrestricted free agents, and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson played it coy Friday when he was asked about discussions to bring back both players. Wilson admitted the Sharks hope to "have some news [on Marleau] in the next little while here," but not much else.
"The respect we have for both Patrick and Jumbo, and what they've done for this franchise, is extremely important to all of us," Wilson said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "And during this time, as I say (about) those conversations, I'll share them when appropriate. But what Patty's accomplished and Jumbo's accomplished is pretty special. I'll leave it there."
Neither Thornton nor Marleau will command first-line minutes or money next season, but both players have shown they can still be effective contributors. Marleau scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 66 games with the Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins last season, scoring at least 10 goals for his 22nd consecutive season. Thornton scored 41 points (seven goals, 24 assists), averaging just 15:30 of ice time per night.
Marleau told reporters in February in a visit to San Jose after being traded to the Penguins that he hoped "the door is open" to return to the Sharks in free agency. Thornton told The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun on Friday that he was in no rush to sign, but he did express disappointment after the trade deadline he wasn't traded to a Stanley Cup contender.
The Sharks have playoff aspirations after finishing last in the Pacific Division and Western Conference last season, but will that be enough to satiate Marleau and Thornton in their quest for their first Stanley Cup? If Marleau and Thornton re-sign and San Jose isn't in playoff contention for a second consecutive season, it's definitely possible the veterans are traded to Cup-chasing teams at the deadline.
Given their age, both players should benefit from having more time to recover during an extended offseason, with the start of the next NHL season not yet set in stone. Marleau last played with Pittsburgh on Aug. 7 in one of the NHL's playoff bubbles in Toronto after the season resumed, while Thornton has been training with HC Davos in Switzerland since August.
Whenever the next season starts, both Marleau and Thornton could reach major milestones while wearing a Sharks sweater. Marleau needs to play just 45 more games to pass Gordie Howe's all-time record, while Thornton is just 11 assists away from becoming only the seventh player in NHL history to record 1,100 assists in their career.