Sharks jersey retirements: Why Joe Thornton should be honored first

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Joe Thornton should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with Joe Thornton.

The history of the Sharks can be split into two eras: Before Joe Thornton, and after Joe Thornton.

It’s befitting of a man nicknamed “Jumbo,” as San Jose’s acquisition of the probable Hall of Famer from the Boston Bruins on Nov. 30, 2005 marks the biggest turning point in the franchise’s history. The Sharks were no longer "up-and-coming” after the Thornton trade: His arrival meant they had arrived.

Thornton’s presence began an era in which San Jose climbed to the NHL’s elite, in large part on the back of his superstardom. Let’s examine the case for, and against, the Sharks retiring Thornton’s No. 19 jersey first. 

The case for

Save for Brent Burns’ run on defense over the last handful of seasons, no Shark has been as dominant at their peak as Thornton. He remains the only San Jose player to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, leading the league in scoring and winning MVP honors in the season he was traded to the Sharks. 

Thornton owns three of the four 90-point seasons in Sharks franchise history, scoring 92, 114 and 96 points, respectively, from 2005-06 through 2007-08. The fourth belongs to Jonathan Cheechoo, who led the league in goal-scoring in 2005-06 with 56 goals. Forty-nine of those goals came after Thornton was acquired. 

Cheechoo, Devin Setoguchi, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and even Burns all took their goal-scoring to the next level playing on Thornton’s wing. He is one of the best passers of all time, and his dominance is reflected on the Sharks’ all-time scoring charts: Thornton owns eight of the 10 highest single-season assist totals in San Jose history, and is 206 helpers clear in first place on the team's all-time list. 

Despite his absence on the NHL’s list of its 100 greatest players of all-time, Thornton simply is one of the best to ever play the sport. He’s the best player in franchise history, and his best years came in San Jose. This should be an open-and-shut case. 

The case against 

It’s not clear-cut for the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, however, because of the No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft. Thornton very well could pass Marleau on the Sharks’ all-time points list -- he’s 59 shy of doing so -- but he would need to play 460 more games for San Jose to surpass Marleau.  

He undoubtedly has had a more productive career than Marleau, but tenure and sentimentality should count for something when it comes to jersey retirements, which are about a place in team history as much as anything else. Thornton and Marleau were simultaneous faces of the franchise during their shared Sharks tenure -- for better or worse -- and something would seem off about retiring one before the other.

Plus, Thornton doesn’t seem ready to retire any time soon. He has not yet re-signed with the Sharks, but he told reporters at June’s NHL Awards in Las Vegas that he is thinking about playing this upcoming season and beyond. 

If -- and it’s a big if -- Thornton plays into his mid-40s a la Chris Chelios and Jaromir Jagr, would the Sharks wait until he calls it a career before lifting the first number into SAP Center’s rafters? They’ve gone nearly three decades without doing so, but Marleau retiring from the sport before Thornton could mean No. 12 gets raised first. 

[RELATED: Sharks reportedly 'don't want' reunion with Marleau next year]


The Sharks can’t go wrong with retiring Thornton’s number first. Thornton likely will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame as the first player primarily remembered for their time in teal, and he’ll also be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time. 

Whether you want him or Marleau to have their number retired first, it’s clear that one of them will. But, we’ll pose one question as a counterargument in Friday’s series finale.

Why not both?

Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?

The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Owen Nolan's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Joe Pavelski's jersey retirement

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

It has been widely presumed that if Patrick Marleau returns for a 23rd NHL season, he will do so with the Sharks, back where it all began.

He still is without a Stanley Cup on his career résumé after he and the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round of the NHL's expanded playoff format. The Penguins acquired him prior to the trade deadline in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick after he returned for his second go-around with San Jose early in the season.

Based on what his wife, Christina, tweeted Friday, it appears Marleau already has made up his mind about playing next season.

That really shouldn't come as a surprise. Though he isn't the top-end player he once was, Marleau showed this past season that he still has some left in the tank. And, on top of that, he only needs to play in 45 more games to pass NHL legend Gordie Howe for the most games played in league history.

Frankly, it would only be fitting if he set the record in a Sharks sweater. And now it would appear the ball is in San Jose's court as to whether or not Marleau will return to the franchise that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 Entry Draft.

Aside from the appetizing narrative, there's reason why Marleau might get a third go-around in teal. All indications are that the Sharks intend to return to playoff contention next season, but due to their salary structure, don't expect any large salaries to be brought in -- San Jose already has plenty of those. Consequently, the Sharks are going to need to fill the lineup with some minimum-salaried players.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

At this point, you can bet that money isn't a top consideration for Marleau. If a true Cup contender doesn't present him with an offer, it would be difficult to envision a more appealing destination for him than San Jose. Marleau could be signed for the veteran's minimum, and given he scored 10 goals in 58 games with the Sharks this year, that might be a pretty good value.

It's certainly possible the Sharks find a superior player to take Marleau's hypothetical spot, or would rather give it to a younger player that is part of the future.

If that's not the case, though, signing Mr. Shark makes an awful lot of sense.

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Sharks legend Patrick Marleau might have had his last decent chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL restart. Hopefully he gets another opportunity, because it ain't happening this year.

The fifth-seeded Penguins were stunned and upset by the 12-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round after the Habs advanced to the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory on Friday. Pittsburgh lost Game 1 and was never able to recover, thanks in large part to Montreal goalie Carey Price.

The Penguins scored just eight goals in the series, none of which were deposited by Marleau. In fact, the long-time Shark didn't record a single point across the four games. The Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for what is now confirmed to be a 2021 third-round draft pick, as San Jose wanted to give him an opportunity to check that last box on his career résumé.

Marleau now will become an unrestricted free agent. It has been widely presumed that if he indeed returns for a 23rd NHL season, it might come in a third go-around with the Sharks. San Jose finished dead last in the Western Conference this season, but the Sharks' record was largely impacted by injuries and they certainly could return to the playoffs next year.

Really, it would only be fitting if Marleau ended his career in teal.

As for the Sharks, the qualifying round has gone nearly as well as they could have hoped for. Of the four Pacific Division teams that were involved, only the Edmonton Oilers failed to advance.

Due to the wacky 2020 NHL draft lottery, each team eliminated in the qualifying round has a 12.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever team lands it is widely expected to use it on consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

So, there's an 87.5 percent chance -- barring trades -- that Lafreniere won't immediately end up in the Sharks' division.

Given the season they had, they'll take any win they can get.