With the Stanley Cup Final somewhere between halfway and a quarter over and the entry draft less than three weeks away, the NHL rumor mill is beginning to churn in earnest and the Sharks are a focal point. General manager Doug Wilson has stated he intends to turn the team over to its younger players and that they may need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward after their latest postseason elimination at the hands of the Kings. Naturally, that's created speculation about star veteran forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau who are both perceived to be available via trade months after signing three-year contract extensions to stay in San Jose.
Over the weekend, Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun reported that the Maple Leafs are among at least six teams interested in acquiring Thornton. Today, Eric Duhatschek of The Globe & Mail threw the Anaheim Ducks into the mix:
If the new regime in Vancouver goes ahead and deals Kesler, the cost to the Ducks would be roughly the same as it would be to bid for Spezza – and the contract isn’t bad either (two more years at $5-million per season, with a no-trade clause to work around).
Thornton would be a far longer shot.
He’s making more money than either Spezza or Kesler (a new three-year, $21-million deal kicks in next year); and teams are loath to trade stars within the division because that can make for some uncomfortable moments if the deal turns out to be one-sided.
If the Sharks are inclined to move Thornton, he must sign off on the destination. Toronto has been rumoured as a possible landing place, though why the Maple Leafs would want to go older at this stage of their development is a mystery. You have the sense that Maple Leafs GM David Nonis would happily move two of his youngsters, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, in the right deal, but is adding Thornton the right move? Maybe not.
If Thornton determines the Sharks want him out, then Anaheim – straight down the coast, still in California, where he really enjoys the life – might be the most palatable destination.
But logically, that’s a harder deal for the Ducks to make – adding a pricey older player from a divisional rival, that hasn’t won enough in the playoffs to suit his current employer.
As Duhatschek writes, the Sharks trading their captain to a hated rival seems unlikely but the interesting part of this excerpt is the suggestion that Kadri and Gardiner could be part of Toronto's offer for Thornton. I'm on record as saying a Thornton trade would be a mistake by the Sharks, mostly because I think this core is still good enough to win it all with Thornton at the helm but also because it seems exceedingly unlikely any team would give up significant young pieces for a 35-year-old.
Toronto appears to be that team. Kadri and Gardiner are decidedly not Randy Carlyle players but they're very effective ones whose best days are likely ahead of them and would fill clear needs for the Sharks (particularly Gardiner). Since the latest lockout, Kadri ranks 24th among qualifying forwards in 5-on-5 scoring rate and 26th in power play scoring rate (he's ahead of Thornton in both categories). He also draws an absurd amount of penalties. Kadri isn't anywhere near the two-way force that Thornton is and likely never will be but he's capable of replacing a significant chunk of Thornton's production alongside Tomas Hertl on what would project to be the team's second line.
Gardiner is a tremendously talented puck-moving defenseman who would instantly fill the massive hole the Sharks have on the left side of their blueline behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic while also capably replacing Dan Boyle as the team's power play quarterback. If the Sharks are dead-set on moving on from Jumbo Joe, Kadri and Gardiner would be pretty close to an ideal return; young, talented, cost-controlled and good enough now that the team could conceivably stay competitive in the Pacific Division even without its first-line center.
The biggest roadblock to all of this, as CBC's Elliotte Friedman noted in a recent column, is Thornton's full no-movement clause (which doesn't appear to have a loophole but perhaps there's a twist ending to this story yet). He's unlikely to waive it to go to a team where he'd not only have little to no chance of contending for a Cup but face an unparalleled level of media scrutiny. Thornton wants to win and if he's going to be denied the chance to do so in San Jose, Friedman suggested he's likely to only agree to be moved to a definitive contender like Chicago or Los Angeles. Those teams aren't going to give up packages equivalent in value to Kadri and Gardiner, at which point it likely becomes a mistake for the Sharks to trade Thornton. Regardless of how this all shakes out, get ready for a long summer of Joe Thornton trade rumors until the Sharks deal him or conclude they can't.