Sharks

Sharks vs. Maple Leafs watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

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USATSI

Sharks vs. Maple Leafs watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks look to keep their successful streak on home ice alive as they face off with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

San Jose is coming off a crazy contest with the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators. In that game, the Sharks built a 3-0 lead in the first frame and then gave up three unanswered goals in the second. After finding themselves down 4-3 halfway through the final stanza, the Sharks scored two goals 13 seconds apart to top the Preds 5-4.

The game-winner by Joe Thornton was also his 400th career goal.

[GOLDMAN: Ex-Shark Marleau 'so happy' for Thornton's 400th goal]

The Leafs are also coming off a Tuesday night victory, having defeated the Kings down in LA 5-1. They are 6-4-0 in their last 10 contests and have scored the second-most goals (63) in the league so far this season.

Both teams will be missing top-scoring players when they meet on Thursday. Toronto will be without superstar forward Auston Matthews as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury he sustained on October 27 in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. San Jose will be missing winger Tomas Hertl, who sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Tuesday’s game against the Predators. 

[WHITE: Sharks legend Marleau a trusted voice for young Maple Leafs]

Thursday marks the first of two times San Jose and Toronto will play each other this season, and the only visit the Leafs will make to SAP Center. The teams split their previous season series, with San Jose notching a 3-2 victory the last time Toronto visited. The Sharks are 23-20-5-1 versus the Leafs all-time.

Sharks projected lines and pairs

Joe Pavelski -- Logan Couture -- Timo Meier
Marcus Sorensen -- Joe Thornton -- Kevin Labanc
Evander Kane -- Antti Suomela -- Joonas Donskoi
Barclay Goodrow -- Rourke Chartier -- Melker Karlsson

Joakim Ryan -- Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon -- Erik Karlsson

Martin Jones -- projected starter
Aaron Dell

Leafs projected lines and pairs

Zach Hyman -- John Tavares -- Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau -- Nazem Kadri -- Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson -- Par Lindholm -- Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis -- Frederik Gauthier -- Josh Leivo

Morgan Rielly -- Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner -- Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott -- Igor Ozhiganov

Frederik Andersen -- projected starter
Garret Sparks

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

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USATSI

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. 

Watch ex-Shark Patrick Marleau get ready for Penguins debut vs. Kings

Watch ex-Shark Patrick Marleau get ready for Penguins debut vs. Kings

Patrick Marleau has played in more regular-season games against the Los Angeles Kings throughout his 22-year NHL career than any other opponent. He'll face them for the 116th time Wednesday night, but in a big change from most of the prior 115, it won't be as a member of the Sharks.

Marleau currently exists as San Jose's all-time leader in points (1,102), goals (518) and games played (1,551), but he won't be able to add to those totals throughout the remainder of the current season as he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to Monday's NHL trade deadline in exchange for a conditional third-round draft pick. He grew up rooting for Pittsburgh, and will make his debut with his new club when the Kings host the Penguins at Staples Center on Wednesday night.

If there's one thing missing from Marleau's Hall of Fame resume, it's the absence of a Stanley Cup. He's in a much better position to pursue that with the Penguins the rest of the way than he was with the Sharks, and Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford is looking forward to adding Marleau's veteran presence to what is an already talented group.

"He can still really skate, and as you get older that's important for you," Rutherford said after acquiring Marleau. "He should be a good fit for us."

"His desire to get that ultimate prize is going to be big for him because time is running out."

[RELATED: Why Sharks GM Wilson a big winner at NHL trade deadline]

With 1,715 career games played, Marleau has Gordie Howe's NHL record of 1,767 in his sights. He'll have to return for a 23rd season in order to eclipse that target, and despite the trade, there is certainly good reason to believe he would be open to a third stint in San Jose.

Until then, Sharks fans are going to have to get used to seeing one of the franchise's all-time greats wearing colors that aren't teal -- again.