Despite years of success in the regular season (and arguably quite a bit of postseason success as well), the Sharks have not been able to win a Stanley Cup. And in the past decade of playoff berths, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the faces of the franchise. So fresh off an epic collapse, it's no wonder some have called for a trade of one or both of the franchise's top 2 leading scorers. But could trading them actually, tangibly help the team?
If I'm trading one of them, I need a better reason than the rabble's "They can't win the big one" argument. That label is constantly used in sports, and athletes constantly prove it wrong - Peyton Manning, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Steve Yzerman(!) just to name a few. It's almost like the whole thing is just a lazy narrative that sports writers come up with when they can't explain what actually went wrong.
No, if I'm trading Marleau or Thornton, I'm doing it because I believe it could actually help the win the Stanley Cup in the next year or two. That leads me to ask: what could realistically come back to San Jose in such a trade. But if there's one thing I've learned as a hockey fan, it's that very few people actually have a good idea of what a player's trade value is (And don't feel bad if you don't - neither did Ray Shero).
To objectively estimate the trade value for Thornton or Marleau, I looked at recent history. In the past five seasons, there have been about a dozen trades that are arguably comparable. At the start of next season, Marleau and Thornton will both be 35, but are still playing at a very high level. So I looked at forwards who were in their 30's at the time they were traded, and - for the most part - were only a season or two removed from a 60-point season.
|Star Forward (Age at trade)||From||To||Traded For||When|
|Ryan Smyth (33)||COL||LA||Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing, 5th||09-10 Season|
Olli Jokinen (31)
|CGY||NYR||Ales Kotalik, Chris Higgins||09-10 Season|
|Jason Arnott (35)||NAS||NJ||Matt Halischuk, 2nd||10 Offseason|
|Dany Heatley (30)||SJ||MIN||Martin Havlat||11 Offseason|
|Jamie Langenbrunner (35)||NJ||DAL||3rd||11-12 Season|
|Mike Ribiero (32)||DAL||WAS||Cody Eakin, 2nd||12 Draft|
|Jarome Iginla (35)||CGY||PIT||Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, 1st||12-13 Season|
|Jaromir Jagr (41)||DAL||BOS||Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne, 1st/2nd||12-13 Deadline|
|Marian Gaborik (31)
[w/ Steven Delisle, Blake Parlett]
|NYR||CBJ||Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore, 6th||12-13 Deadline|
|Thomas Vanek (30)||NYI||MTL||Sebastien Collberg, 2nd||13-14 Deadline|
|Martin St. Louis (38)
|TB||NYR||Ryan Callahan, 1st, 2nd, 7th||13-14 Deadline|
|Marian Gaborik (32)||CBJ||LA||Matt Frattin, 2nd/3rd||13-14 Deadline|
I would argue that, despite their age, the Sharks' duo is still worth a bit more than most of the players on this list. But a basic value level emerges for Marleau or Thornton in a hypothetical trade. Looking at the trends of recent transactions, there are 3 scenarios to expect in such a trade:
Scenario A) Straight-Up Trade for Another Star
Example: Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat
Side note - as poorly as Martin Havlat's time in San Jose went, the Sharks still didn't clearly lose the Heatley/Havlat trade. At the time, they were both former point-per-game wingers on the wrong side of 30, with some concerning injuries in the past. Now, they'll both likely be free agents after dealing with injuries and demotions down in the lineup while heavily disappointing the teams they were traded to. The value at the time was pretty even, and its still pretty even.
As far as trading Thornton or Marleau goes, this is probably where the Sharks keep the most value. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the rarest. Another team isn't going to give up their star player unless there's some trouble in paradise on their end as well. Maybe if Chicago feels they need a shake-up, the Sharks could get Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa. But I doubt they'll feel the need to rock the boat. So that leaves the rumored names of Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler or Dion Phaneuf as likely the best players San Jose could get - and that's IF they are actually on the block. Personally, I'm not thrilled with those names, but at least it wouldn't be a total loss for San Jose. The question is, would that kind of trade make sense for both teams?
Scenario B) Trade for a Package of Prospects
Examples: Iginla & Jagr trades
With Doug Wilson's comments about the team "taking a step back" so they can "take two steps forward" later, this might be what he has in mind. And it might be the most common way these types of trades go down. Usually a team that's selling a top-quality older player is in full-rebuild mode. Maybe the Sharks feel this is the way to go to rebuild the stock of prospects, while treading water with the rest of their lineup. The going rate for an aging star seems to be two prospects and an early round pick. If the Sharks were looking to trade Thornton to the St. Louis Blues, for example, a package of Ty Rattie, Joel Edmundson and a 1st round pick might be in the right ballpark. This type of trade would certainly make the Sharks younger, but they risk losing a lot of value if a prospect doesn't pan out. And if the Sharks organization is serious about making a run at the Stanley Cup in the next year or two, this probably doesn't work for them.
Scenario C) Downgrade, Plus a Little Extra
Example: Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan & co.
I think this scenario best fits what the Sharks are likely to do. The Martin St. Louis trade is probably the best approximation of what a Thornton or Marleau trade would be - the team is basically forced to lose some value on a trade because the player has a no trade clause. (See also: Dany Heatley to the Sharks) In return for the aging superstar who is still producing at an elite level, the Sharks could expect a top six NHL forward and a high pick or prospect. For Marleau, maybe you get Nazem Kadri and a 2nd from the Maple Leafs, or maybe Carl Hagelin and a 1st from the Rangers if they lose to the Kings and want an upgrade. These names are harder to predict, because a team might be willing to move a decent piece they wouldn't normally plan on trading. For San Jose, this is probably the best option in what appears to be a rebuild-on-the-fly; the Sharks would get a piece that could actually contribute now, while also bolstering their prospect pool as well.
Bottom line, there probably isn't one magical deal that could put the Sharks over the top. At this point in their careers, Marleau and Thornton likely don't return multiple big pieces to offset their still high level of play. And remember, Patty or Joe both have no trade clause, so they would have to go to a place that they'd want to go to - which really limits the Sharks options. And, if Joe's brother/agent's Twitter account is any indication, they might might not want to go anywhere.
.@TSNBobMcKenzie "and I think Joe Thornton will ultimately become available if he’s not already" you thinking buy-out?— John Thornton (@Thorts19) June 1, 2014