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.