Joe Thornton

Fresh off signing new contracts, Hertl and Thornton think they have more to give

Fresh off signing new contracts, Hertl and Thornton think they have more to give

Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton signed new contracts with the Sharks on Monday, albeit under much different circumstances. 

Hertl, who said he got engaged earlier this offseason, continued his "big summer" with a four-year deal that's reportedly worth $5.625 million annually. Thornton, 39, married, and coming off of his second knee surgery in as many seasons, returned to San Jose on a one-year deal, reportedly worth $5 million. Yet, in separate conference calls with reporters, both players were talking about the same thing.

Showing they have much more to give. 

"I think I took another step [in the playoffs], but I'm not done," Hertl told reporters. "I think I can still be a little bit better player and show I can score more goals and be even better for [the] team."

The 24-year-old is now one of six Sharks signed past 2020, and is coming off of the best season of his five-year career. He played 79 games for just the third time in his career, tied his career-high of 46 points (including a career-high 22 goals), and once again posted solid possession numbers.

Hertl added another six goals in the postseason, and was one of the best Sharks against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and the Vegas Golden Knights in the second. 268 players played at least 50, five-on-five minutes in the postseason, and only nine scored primary points at a higher rate than the Czech forward (2.49 points per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. Nobody generated expected goals at a higher rate at even strength in the playoffs, either.

"I just think his best hockey's ahead of him," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. "He truly wants to be a great player, and I think watching him in the playoffs this year, I think everybody saw him take that step that not only we expected, but he expects it of himself. He plays in all situations. He plays in all situations. He's a tough matchup, and you throw that in there with his great work ethic and his love for the game...He took a step this year to show what a horse and what a dominant player he can be, and we believe in that."

Wilson believes in Thornton, too. He said his expectations for Thornton are different than those of any other player, and repeatedly praised his work ethic. 

Thornton is also expecting a lot of himself. The veteran center said he feels strong -- in both surgically repaired knees -- and wants to continue to be a key contributor. 

"I'm way further along because [when I injured my left knee two years ago,] that was just a summer of rehab and then, boom, I'm back on the ice," Thornton said. "And I felt great, to be honest with you...I've been rehabbing [my right knee] since February. So, it feels great and feels strong as of this moment. I've still got another two months to get it stronger, which is a good feeling."

The lead time should help. Thornton scored 36 points in 47 games last year, but had 26 in his last 28 before injuring his right knee against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 7. His 22.9 percent shooting percentage during that time was unsustainable (Thornton's a career 14 percent shooter), but Joe Pavelski's 8.7 percent over said span was due for some regression, too, as his hot finish to the season showed. So, it's reasonable that a now-healthy Thornton can still produce offensively.

Who Thornton plays with next season is ultimately up to head coach Peter DeBoer, but both he and Wilson spoke about the possibility of him playing alongside recently re-signed winger Evander Kane. If Hertl starts the season on the wing again, perhaps another reunion is in order. 

The Sharks are going to need the belief Hertl and Thornton have in themselves to result in on-ice production, especially after missing out on Toronto-bound John Tavares in free agency. With both players now officially back in the fold, San Jose's betting that it will. 

Sharks re-sign Joe Thornton on his 39th birthday

Sharks re-sign Joe Thornton on his 39th birthday

Joe Thornton got one heck of a birthday present on Monday.

The Sharks announced that they have re-signed the veteran forward to a one-year contract. It also happens to be Thornton's 39th birthday.

According to The Athletic, the deal is worth $5 million and contains a no-trade clause.

The 2018-19 season will be Thornton's 14th with the Sharks and his 21st overall in the NHL.

"Joe has become one of the faces of this franchise since his arrival in 2005 and we feel it's only fitting that he will be wearing teal going forward. He is a generational playmaker and his accomplishments place him amongst the elite players to ever play the game. He has helped lead this team to new levels and continues to be one of the top two-way centers in the League. Nobody loves the game of hockey more than Joe Thornton and his leadership on and off the ice have been instrumental in this franchise's success. We're excited that he has continued his commitment to this organization and the fans in San Jose," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said in a statement.

Thornton finished with 13 goals and 23 assists in 47 games last season. He missed the final 35 games of the season due to torn right ACL and MCL.

Epilogue or prologue? Answer will determine Sharks' summer

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AP

Epilogue or prologue? Answer will determine Sharks' summer

The Sharks will have to answer a lot of questions this summer, but their offseason's overarching one will determine how everything else is answered.

Was the 2017-18 season an epilogue or a prologue for San Jose? There's ample evidence for both options.

The Sharks entered their 26th season with Patrick Marleau, the franchise's leader in every conceivable offensive category and one-time face, in Toronto. They ended it with Joe Thornton, the club's all-time assists leader and Marleau's fellow face of the franchise for a decade, out of the lineup. He was working his way back from what he revealed to reporters on Tuesday were full tears of the ACL and MCL in his right knee, the same injuries the 38-year-old suffered in his left knee a year ago.

Sunday's Game 6 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights ended the club's first playoff run without either player in the lineup since 1995.

But the Sharks also started the regular season relying on young players to improve and veterans to bounce back in order to offset Marleau's departure, and ultimately Thornton's absence. They ended it with five, 25-and-under players scoring 30-plus points, tying a franchise record, and 12 players in total hitting that threshold, setting a new one. 

San Jose made it to the second round, winning (at least) one playoff series for the ninth time in general manager Doug Wilson's 14-year tenure. That's more than any other team in the league during that time, and the latest came at least partially on the backs of players stepping into bigger roles. 

There are compelling arguments either way, especially within the Sharks' cap flexibility this summer and beyond.

As the roster stands right now, San Jose will have between $17.5-and-$21.5 million in salary cap space this summer, according to Cap Friendly. Assuming prospects Dylan Gambrell and Max Letunov plus defenseman Tim Heed start next season in the minors (or elsewhere, in Heed's case), the Sharks will have an additional $2.4 million to spend, plus nearly $5 million more if Paul Martin is moved. 

Thornton, Eric Fehr, Jannik Hansen, Evander Kane, and Joel Ward are the team's only unrestricted free agents, while Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney will need new contracts as restricted free agents. The latter contracts likely won't break the bank, while Thornton said Tuesday he's willing to come back on a one-year deal and at a reduced rate, too boot. That should leave plenty of cap space to re-sign Kane, if the Sharks choose, as well as land another free-agent forward in a class headlined by New York Islanders center John Tavares. 

Wilson will have to walk a tightrope, though, as cap space that's abundant this summer could dwindle as soon as the next. Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's extensions kick in next season. Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, and Joe Pavelski are eligible to sign contract extensions this summer. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Joakim Ryan are, too, ahead of restricted free agency in 2019. 

If 2017-18 was the postscript of the Thornton/Marleau era, Wilson can truly start to strip things down. But if it marked the start of a new one, he has the flexibility to double down, possibly even if Thornton comes back.  

So what did the 26th season in Sharks history ultimately signify? We may know as soon as July 1.