Sharks

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

It's sounding like Joe Thornton will be back with the Sharks next season.

Thornton had previously expressed that if he were to return for a 22nd NHL season, it would indeed be with San Jose.

"I’m a Shark,” Thornton said at the Sharks' end-of-season availability. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

At the NHL Awards media availability on Tuesday, Thornton eliminated whatever mystery remained and confirmed he would put off retirement for at least another year, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Thornton went even further while clarifying his comments to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Thornton can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but it's fully expected he and San Jose will come to an agreement on a contract -- a task made somewhat easier by the trade of defensemen Justin Braun on Tuesday morning, which provides some much-needed salary cap relief.

[RELATED: Sharks trade Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks]

"He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton back in May. "But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him."

Thornton's announcement Tuesday would seem to indicate there are plenty of more days left to cherish.

How Sharks can use 2020 NHL trade deadline to upgrade goalie position

How Sharks can use 2020 NHL trade deadline to upgrade goalie position

It's no secret that the Sharks have suffered from below-average goaltending over the last two seasons. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning scored more goals than San Jose last year, and yet they were one of seven teams with a better goal differential than the Sharks, who finished with the worst cumulative save percentage in the NHL (.889). It's barely been any better in the current season, as the tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has posted a .894 cumulative save percentage thus far, ranking 29th out of 31 teams.

Making matters worse, there's no obvious solution on the horizon. Jones, 30, has another four years remaining on his contract at $5.7 million per after this season, and he has actually performed worse in 2019-20 than he did in 2018-19. His save percentage and goals-against average have both continued to move in the wrong direction, and the fact that Dell appears to have taken over the No. 1 job doesn't exactly bode well for his ability to turn things around.

Dell, on the other hand, has arguably been San Jose's biggest bright spot in what has been a thoroughly disappointing season, as his save percentage (.909) and GAA (.289) are nearly identical to the league averages. The problem is, he turns 31 in May and will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. Chances are, Dell will get a more lucrative offer on the open market than San Jose will be able to afford.

Making the situation even direr, the Sharks currently don't have any other goalies in their system with NHL experience beyond Jones and Dell.

Of course, this all assumes San Jose maintains the status quo. We're only a few days away from the trade deadline, however, which has the potential to shake up the established order. There are numerous potential trade possibilities through which the Sharks could upgrade the goalie position, whether in the immediate or with eyes toward the future.

Robin Lehner

Lehner had a tremendous season (25-13-5) for the New York Islanders last year, but for whatever reason, he didn't receive the long-term offers he was looking for in free agency, so he ended up signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 28-year-old has outperformed that contract this season, and has played better than his 35-year-old counterpart Corey Crawford, who, like Lehner, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. One would naturally assume Chicago would prefer to keep the better, younger goalie if forced to choose between the two, but Crawford has a modified no-trade clause and a no-movement clause in his contract, which basically rules out that possibility.

The Blackhawks would have to be highly motivated to part with Lehner, but due to his age and track record, San Jose would have every reason to be very interested in him. The Sharks would have to give up something they would prefer to keep -- maybe a package centered around Kevin Labanc? -- but as they've been constantly reminded over the last 1.5 seasons, good goalies are worth the price.

Casey DeSmith, Daniel Vladar

In an effort to find Jones' replacement, perhaps San Jose should use the same strategy it took in acquiring him. Jones had been trapped behind Jonathan Quick throughout his time with the Los Angeles Kings, but revealed himself to be a quality starting goaltender -- temporarily, at least -- once he got an opportunity with the Sharks.

Like Jones when he was with the Kings, Casey DeSmith, 28, has played well over a brief cup of coffee in the NHL, but with the Pittsburgh Penguins having one of the top young goaltending tandems in the league this season in Tristan Jarry (24) and Matt Murray (25), his path to the No. 1 spot is extremely obstructed. DeSmith has posted a 2.77 GAA and .908 save percentage over 36 AHL games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season, and carries a $1.25 million cap hit for the next two seasons after this one. He would cost significantly less to acquire than Lehner.

If the Sharks want to look further down the line and go even younger with their goaltending trade target, Daniel Vladar seems like a good prospect to focus on. The 22-year-old has posted a 1.79 GAA and .936 save percentage over 19 AHL games with the Providence Bruins this season, and with Tuukka Rask one of the leading candidates to win the Vezina Trophy, Vladar won't be taking over the top job with the Boston Bruins anytime soon.

Vladar is on the final year of his entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season  -- the exact scenario Jones was in. With Jaroslav Halak proving to be a more-than-adequate backup to Rask, San Jose might be able to acquire Vladar on the relative cheap depending on Boston's plans for him.

[RELATED: Why Sharks probably could have done better in Dillon trade]

Henrik Lundqvist

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum of Vladar is soon-to-be 38-year-old Henrik Lundqvist. The legendary goalie appears to be at the tail end of his impressive tenure with the New York Rangers, as he is now both considerably older and arguably worse than Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, who both appear to have passed him on the depth chart.

The Rangers have only been slightly better than the Sharks this season, so they, too, have every reason to look towards the future -- which Lundqvist doesn't figure into. The problem is, King Henrik is on the books for $8.5 million this season and the next before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

His peripheral stats this season are very similar to Jones, but he also has a much lengthier track record of success. Lundqvist is the NHL's current active leader with 184.1 goals saved above average throughout his career according to Hockey Reference, which ranks as the 14th-most all-time. Jones, on the other hand, is at -21.7 over his seven-year career and has never ranked in the top-20 in that category in any single season during his tenure with the Sharks.

Might the two sides consider swapping their expensive, yet underperforming netminders? From the Sharks' perspective, they would get out of the remaining four years on Jones' contract and only take back salary for next season. Lundqvist would also potentially upgrade the position for San Jose, and would fit right into the franchise's hopes to get back into contention next year. For New York, the appeal would be in getting younger and cheaper in the immediate, and adding whatever else the Sharks would likely need to involve in the trade to get a deal done.

While it's uncertain how the Sharks plan to address their goaltending situation moving forward, there is no question that they must do so. The status quo clearly isn't working, and the trade deadline offers an opportunity for San Jose to go in a new direction.

Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday, Feb. 24 at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!

Brenden Dillon thanks Sharks fans, San Jose after trade to Capitals

Brenden Dillon thanks Sharks fans, San Jose after trade to Capitals

Before the Sharks trade that would send Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals took place on Tuesday, the defenseman was emotional talking to the media upon the possibility of leaving San Jose.

After the inevitable deal happened, Dillon had a moment to say what spending six seasons with the Sharks meant to him.

"First and foremost, the city here, the fan base has been unbelievable," Dillon told the media on Tuesday. "Doug (Wilson) from day one, he really believed in me as a player, bringing me in here." 

'I've learned so much, and I think when I came here -- you know, a 22, 23-year-old guy, just trying to build this game, I think for my second year being part of going to the Stanley Cup Finals, see the grind, see how hard it is to get there, you need a lot of things to go right, you need a lot of the special people, I think that's helped me."

Wilson, the Sharks' general manager, mirrored the emotions on having to go through with a trade of this magnitude. 

"Such an amazing teammate," Wilson said about Dillon. "Wonderful guy, right from the day he's come here and he's made people around him better, and how he's carried himself, his fiancée Emma -- very much appreciate everything they've done for this organization."

For Dillon, the Sharks received a 2020 second-round draft pick (Colorado's previously acquired by Washington) and a third-round draft pick in either 2020 or 2021 from the Caps.

The 29-year-old came to San Jose in a trade from the Dallas Stars in November of 2014. Across those six seasons with the Sharks, he appeared in 439 games, posting 88 points with 13 goals and 75 assists. He has played the ninth-most games in Sharks history, and has the seventh-most penalty minutes in franchise history.

Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday, Feb. 24 at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!