Sharks

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

SAN JOSE -- In addition to hitting multiple career milestones last season, Joe Thornton was instrumental in bringing out the best in some of the younger players around him.

With a stacked crop of fresh faces looking to crack the roster this season, Jumbo Joe -- fresh off signing a one-year deal that will keep him in teal -- will likely lead the way yet again in developing some of San Jose's future stars.

"It's a privilege for all of us to be around him because it's contagious," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton on Friday at the team's practice facility. "How he's impacted this franchise on and off the ice, but also his teammates and all the young guys who have the ability to learn and watch (him) and see what it takes to truly be great."

Last season, Thornton found success as San Jose's third-line center with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc on his wings. The 23-year-old Labanc and 27-year-old Sorensen both registered career-highs in points, many of which were scored while playing alongside No. 19. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio combined for 23 goals during the 2018-19 season.

Thornton's ability to get so much out of the youngsters around him is "rare," Wilson said, although part of it can be attributed to how close San Jose's AHL team plays to the big club.
 
"It's funny, there were years (Thornton) would go to Barracuda games and he'd say 'those are my guys,'' Wilson mused.  "It's one of the reasons we love to be so loyal to our own players. The proximity of the Barracuda being here, the rink being right across the street, and the fact that our players and our veterans follow them."

Training camp doesn't get underway until next week, but the Sharks are already excited about the contingent of young players looking to make the big roster this year, mainly forwards such as Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Lean Bergmann. San Jose noticeably lost some of its offensive firepower over the offseason with Joe Pavelski among the crop of players who departed in free agency. But Wilson went so far as to say the Sharks are "as excited about this group of forwards coming in as we've ever been" heading into camp.

No doubt, having a veteran like Thornton in the dressing room with such a promising young group coming in gives the team a boost.

"The energy -- it's funny to see all the young kids come in and look over and see Joe Thornton in the gym," Wilson said. "(It) just creates a lot of energy and excitement around this group."

Whether any of the young hopefuls coming into camp play on a line with Thornton still remains to be seen. At the very least, San Jose's incoming class will get a little bit of time during camp to learn from the future Hall of Famer. 

[RELATED: Jumbo fully healthy as he prepares for 15th Sharks season]

"I've never met another player who loves the game like him, loves this team, and makes everyone around him better like that," Wilson complimented.

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

The Sharks undoubtedly would prefer if both players were healthy, but San Jose can take advantage of Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson's season-ending injuries. 

Hertl already is on long-term injured reserve after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee last month, and Karlsson should soon join him after breaking his thumb. That puts the Sharks in a unique position heading into the trade deadline, as the fine folks at Cap Friendly observed Saturday. 

The Sharks were 11 points back of the Western Conference's final wild-card spot as of this writing, with four teams between them and the Arizona Coyotes. San Jose also doesn't own a 2020 first-round pick as a condition of the Erik Karlsson trade, and its prospect pool is considered to be one of the weakest in the NHL. It would make a lot of sense, then, for the Sharks to take on -- or retain -- salary in exchange for prospects and/or picks. 

There are a host of playoff contenders lacking salary-cap space, as Cap Friendly noted. The Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames all currently have fewer than $3 million in space, per Cap Friendly. Trading with a Pacific Division rival might prove difficult, but Sharks general manager Doug Wilson should be able to field calls from the likes of the Florida Panthers ($141,250 in current space), Philadelphia Flyers ($2.08 million), Washington Capitals ($2.45 million), Dallas Stars ($2.93 million), Boston Bruins ($3.12 million) and Pittsburgh Penguins ($3.51 million), among others. 

Finding a contract is another matter entirely. The Stars could trade injured center Martin Hanzal, but he already is on LTIR. It's difficult to envision the Panthers trading pending free-agent winger Mike Hoffman or the Capitals dealing soon-to-be free-agent goalie Braden Holtby for salary relief, let alone when you consider both players' trade protection (and Hoffman's history with Erik Karlsson).

The Bruins would love to trade David Backes, but he won't become a free agent until 2022 and can't be placed on LTIR after Bruins general manager Don Sweeney admitted Backes was "fit and able to play" after being waived. Wilson said he wants the Sharks to contend in 2021, and they can't afford to have another $5 million against the cap considering how many players have signed long-term contracts in the last few years. 

[RELATED: Why Hannan sees silver lining in Karlsson injury for Sharks]

Retaining salary seems to be a likelier option. The Sharks' pending free agents all have manageable contracts, but defenseman Brenden Dillon -- rumored to be one of the top blue liners available -- could be more appealing if teams aren't taking on all $3.275 million of his salary-cap hit. 

The trade deadline now is just over a week away, and the Sharks probably won't be buyers as a result of Hertl and Karlsson's injuries. They'll still be in an advantageous position, however, and Wilson has a chance to start re-stocking San Jose's pool of prospects and draft picks. 

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson will undergo season-ending thumb surgery on Monday in Los Angeles, he told reporters Sunday. 

Dr. Steven Shin will operate on Karlsson's broken thumb. Shin also operated on Warriors star Steph Curry and New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees in the past. 

Karlsson broke his thumb Friday in the Sharks' 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair first reported the news Saturday. It was later confirmed by the team. 

The 29-year-old told reporters Sunday that he injured his thumb when he was hit with a slap shot, not from falling over teammate Joe Thornton. He said the initial X-rays didn't show anything complicated. 

[RELATED: Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth]

Karlsson has scored 40 points -- six goals, 34 assists -- this season in 56 games. His 5.0 shooting percentage is his best since the 2016-17 season, but Karlsson's minus-15 plus-minus is his the third-worst of his 11-year career.

The Sharks re-signed Karlsson to a massive eight-year, $92 million contract last June. Since acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators before last season, Karlsson has scored 85 points -- nine goals, 76 assists -- in 109 regular-season games.