Sharks

Sharks offseason questions: What does future hold for Dylan Gambrell?

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Sharks offseason questions: What does future hold for Dylan Gambrell?

SAN JOSE - It's hard to find bright spots in the Sharks' Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Western Conference final. But Dylan Gambrell scoring the team's lone goal -- the first career NHL goal, no less -- was one of the few positive moments.

The goal capped off a season for Gambrell that was filled with moves between the AHL and NHL levels, filling in for injured players and helping the Sharks find the depth they needed down the center of their offensive arsenal. After a campaign of continuously developing his game, Gambrell, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, could be a key to Team Teal's offensive depth next season.

With a long list of free agents to tend to this summer, the Sharks likely will have more positions to fill up front next season and Gambrell could very well be part of that equation. He brings to the table a solid AHL resume, registering 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) and a plus-7 rating in 51 games played with the Barracuda last season, where he primarily played on the team's top line. 

While nothing is set in stone, it's possible Gambrell gets a shot at being the Sharks' fourth-line center at the start of next season -- a spot he penciled into multiple times through the 2018-19 campaign. Although he didn't score his first NHL goal until the playoffs, the regularity with which he was in the lineup showed how impressed the Sharks' coaching staff was with his development over the course of the season.

The University of Denver product originally came into the NHL lineup at the start of the season when Joe Thornton was sidelined due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee. But Gambrell made more bounces between the Sharks and the AHL Barracuda as the big league club worked to find the depth it needed at the center position -- a space left empty when Chris Tierney was sent to Ottawa in part of the Erik Karlsson trade.

Gambrell accepted the challenge of moving between the two clubs willingly, telling NBC Sports California back in October he was "taking little notes" while with the big club to learn the best way to conduct himself and play at the NHL level.

[RELATED: Sharks bring back ex-Panthers coach Boughner as assistant]

The speedy center's biggest note throughout the season was that he needed to boost his physicality at the NHL level -- an area Sharks' bench boss Peter DeBoer saw improvement in as the campaign went on. 

"I think he's an honest 200-foot player," DeBoer said in late November when Gambrell was recalled. "He just has to realize up here that, to use that speed, you have to attack holes and draw penalties."

After a Game 6 performance where he went 43-percent in the faceoff circle, laid a nice hit on Tyler Bozak, and scored his first NHL goal, it looks like Gambrell has taken those notes to heart.

Joe Thornton showing Sharks no sign of post-trade deadline hangover

Joe Thornton showing Sharks no sign of post-trade deadline hangover

SAN JOSE -- Joe Thornton has a no movement clause in his Sharks contract but made it crystal clear last week he was willing to waive it for a chance to win his first Stanley Cup. That won’t happen here in San Jose, where a miserable season mercifully is winding down.

General manager Doug Wilson shipped three players to playoff contenders. Patrick Marleau was in that group, now gunning for a championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thornton was not.  Jumbo's still rocking teal. 

The 40-year old future Hall-of-Famer expressed disappointment in that outcome the following day, but the sentiment didn’t last long.

Thornton’s already back to his jovial self, with no lingering grief that might impact play as the Sharks play out the string starting Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils.

“That’s one guy I never worry about,” Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said Wednesday after Sharks morning skate. “I said it would’ve been nice to find the right situation and the right opportunity. He was very public with his comments about that. We support that as well and would’ve liked to see someone who has given so much to the game be rewarded.

“But, the very next day, and even today we had a conversation about it, and he said all that’s over with now and let’s get back to work. We’re all doing something we love to do. There’s no better example of that mindset than Jumbo. He always has a smile from ear to ear and loves coming to the rink every day. That’s never going to be an issue with him.”

Captain Logan Couture’s a bit torn over seeing Thornton still with the Sharks, but ultimately happy to have his friend help lead this team down the stretch.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Couture said. “I do wish I was going to be watching him playing in a couple weeks, still on the ice with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, just because he deserves it. He’s such a great competitor and such a great guy. But I am happy he’s here, though, I wish we were headed to the playoffs.

"Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is.”

[RELATED: Wilson hopes Sharks' youngsters can help team finish on high note]

Thornton has said this won’t be his last hurrah, though his Sharks tenure might be ending soon. He’s set for unrestricted free agency after the season, with an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup atop the priority list.

That seems unlikely for a Sharks team with several upgrades and additions needed to find previous form.

The fact Thornton wants to keep playing isn't surprising to those who see him work every day.

“I’m not shocked,” Couture said. “He’s going to be 41 in July but he still has some game left. Some of these games lately, he has been one of our best players and led our team, through all the injuries, to compete in these games. He still has great hockey in him. He sees the ice as well as anyone as has life in his legs.

"It’s pretty remarkable.”

Could Joe Thornton leave Sharks for Maple Leafs in NHL free agency?

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Could Joe Thornton leave Sharks for Maple Leafs in NHL free agency?

Joe Thornton has said his 22nd NHL season won't be his "last hurrah," and the longtime Shark can sign elsewhere this summer as an unrestricted free agent. 

Thornton wasn't traded to a contender to pursue his first Stanley Cup before this week's deadline, and winning a ring will be top of mind on July 1. San Jose currently has the second-worst record in the Western Conference, so could Thornton be tempted to leave the Bay Area this summer? 

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman predicted Wednesday in his "31 Thoughts" column that the Toronto Maple Leafs "will be a factor" if Thornton decides to sign elsewhere. 

"I can’t confirm this, but I believe the Maple Leafs considered adding him now," Friedman wrote Wednesday. "Two things stopped it: 1) their decision not to make short-term fixes after the Carolina loss, and 2) are they really a legit contender if they have to go through Boston or Tampa Bay or both? ... Thornton would have eased the tension right now, but the organization wants to see how everyone top to bottom reacts and performs. Next season is a different story."

The Maple Leafs' last loss before the trade deadline came at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes and an emergency backup goalie, and the notoriously tranquil Leafs fan base and media circuit reacted about as calmly as you'd expect. Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas was a cooler head, however, opting not to make any major moves while the Leafs hang on to the Atlantic Division's last playoff spot. 

Toronto should make the Stanley Cup playoffs, but its path out of the Eastern Conference looks daunting this year and beyond. The Atlantic boasts the NHL's two best teams in the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, and both are as well-built for success in the 2021 postseason as they are this spring. Thornton could help the Leafs close the gap, but he'll turn 41 in July and can't do that by himself. 

If all goes well this offseason -- and that's still an if -- Thornton's current team would have a clearer route to a Cup. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has made it clear he intends to build a contending team for 2021. San Jose restocked its draft cupboard ahead of the trade deadline and could use that newfound ammunition to build around a core that Wilson believes in. The Pacific Division is by far the NHL's weakest, too, and the teams ahead of the Sharks all will face a salary-cap crunch of some kind this summer. The opportunity is there to get back into contention that might not have been if San Jose was in another division.

[RELATED: Marleau faces familiar foe in first game with Penguins]

Thornton, for his part, told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz that he believes in the Sharks' ability to contend next season. 

"I think we’ve seen -- maybe not to this extent -- but I think last time we missed the playoffs (in 2015), we go to the Cup final (in 2016)," Thornton told Kurz on Tuesday. "We have pieces here that are the backbone of this team, and I hope that’s the case going forward.”

Thornton is at the stage of his career where winning is more important than anything else. As long as he believes he can do that in San Jose as his career winds down, it's hard to envision anything else.