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.

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

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AP

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

The ice got a little hot Tuesday night in San Jose. Towards the end of the Sharks' 5-2 blowout loss against the Capitals, tempers began to flare. 

Sharks winger Evander Kane was ejected for elbowing Washington defenseman Radko Gudas in the head with slightly over five minutes left in the third period. Gudas' teammates Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin each took exception, with Wilson hitting Kane. 

Kane and Wilson were seen chirping all the way to their respective benches, with Kane exiting the game.

It didn't stop there, too. Sharks center Joe Thornton chimed in before Wilson hit him with a "kiss the ring" comeback. 

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

Kane avoided suspension, but received the maximum fine of $5,000 for his hit on Gudas. 

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Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

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AP

Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

Just four days into December, the Sharks are facing a new level of adversity. They suffered a disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night and are dealing with some injuries at forward that are keeping the position in flux.

To top it all off, San Jose is about to begin a four-game road trip, three games of which are against Eastern Conference teams. And the last time the Sharks went on a roadie out east, things didn't exactly go well.

In order for the Sharks to keep their good fortunes going, they must pass this test.

"Good teams, tough buildings, a big test," head coach Peter DeBoer said after Tuesday's loss when asked about the upcoming trip. "Our last time on an extended trip we didn't handle it well. So, hopefully, we're in a different place this time."

When you look at the big picture, the Sharks are in a better place than they were at the end of October, when they went 1-3-1 on their east-coast swing. San Jose staged a big rebound in November, showing it could win games in different ways and stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone. After going 4-8-1 in October, the Sharks went 11-4-0 in November and reinserted themselves back into the pack with the other competitive Pacific Division teams.

Nevertheless, the Sharks' upcoming trip -- which kicks off Thursday in Carolina against the Hurricanes and includes a back-to-back against the Lightning and Panthers -- isn't going to be a cakewalk. After the rough outing San Jose's defense had Tuesday against the Capitals, the trip looks even more daunting.

"It's not getting any easier," Brenden Dillon admitted Tuesday. "We're going into some tough buildings. A couple of back-to-backs here with Tampa and Florida. I think we're seeing if we don't play to our identity, if we don't play the right way, what happens."

The Sharks' defense isn't the only area of concern following the loss to Washington. San Jose was starting to see some production from its bottom six at the end of November, but injuries to Tomas Hertl and Antti Suomela are forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines yet again. Even with fourth-liners Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor finding their stride and contributing more, San Jose's mission to have a four-line team on the ice every night remains an ongoing project.

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

This isn't to say that the Sharks can't rebound from their loss to the Capitals and have a successful road trip. Their resilience was on display just last week when they bounced back from a tough loss to the Jets to win back-to-back games against the Kings and Coyotes. Plus, Carolina is the only team on the trip that currently has more points than San Jose, and the Hurricanes have lost three of their last four games, including a 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. 

Still, though, the Sharks can't afford to play as they did against the Caps on their upcoming road trip. San Jose is about to encounter a major test, and class is in session starting Thursday.