We continued answering the big questions facing the Sharks as Marcus tackled whether the Sharks should re-sign Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Now, just like yesterday, the rest of the staff weighs in with their thoughts on the matters.
These guys are going to get more money and/or term than the Sharks can or should match. Don't believe me? Look at July 1 UFA signings. Boedker got $16m over four years. There is exactly zero chance that either of these guys are worth less than Boedker. I know there will be a lot of people arguing that "they like playing here" and "they have families here" and use these arguments as rationale for believing that one or both of these guys will sign a very team friendly deal. Maybe this happens, or maybe they realize that this is probably their last chance to make serious money and they take the best offer they receive.
If they are willing to re-sign, then the contracts have to be short. One year. Two years, max. Giving more term than that to guys born in the 1970s is not wise in 2017.
I think first on the docket this off-season is resigning Thornton and Patty. Both players have demonstrated they can still play at a high level even after 19-year careers. Thornton had 50 points and a +5.3 Corsi Rel, while Marleau put up 27 goals, which is basically first line production. Both of these guys are core pieces on a team that went to the Finals in 2016, and were looking mighty fine until a late season crash that was probably precipitated by a deep run the year before, the World Cup, and a shortened and weird schedule. It’s not like the game has passed them by, they were good for a year and a half now and are literally only one year removed from the Finals.
If Wilson can get these guys back on team friendly deals for say two years each, who says no? That allows two big pieces to come back while allowing Wilson the flexibility to augment the rest of the roster accordingly. Even if Thornton’s recovery takes him to November, it is not the worst thing. San Jose can be good enough without him allowing him to rest up and come back fully healed and ready for a shorter season.
The bigger issue with not signing them is one of who exactly is going to replace them? There is not an easy quick free agent to sign or a player in waiting from the Barracuda. Replacing these two would mean an overhaul of the roster right now. Signing them back also doesn’t mean they should be ensconced in top roles either. Thornton toning down his minutes and playing on a third line with skilled finishers like Donskoi and say Marleau would create all sorts of nightmare matchups for the other 30 teams. Having the ability to send out lineups like this is all the more reason to sign back both Jumbo and Mr. Shark.
This will be the biggest impact decision to this organization in recent memory. It's tough to picture Patrick Marleau wearing anything but teal. And, although Joe Thornton joined this club after establishing himself as one of the greatest distributors the game of hockey has ever seen in Boston, it would be hard to see him wrap up his career in another sweater as well. That being said, does the critical thinking, analytical, contract saavy, hockey writer in me think that the Sharks should extend offers to resign the two San Jose royals?
The numbers in my opinion just aren't there. Unless they are willing to take one hell of a hometown discount on a one or two-year deal, Doug Wilson should prepare himself for a pair of tough conversations. With the Paul Martin, Mikkel Boedker, and Joel Ward contracts on the books as of this article's publishing (please, please take one Vegas), and a handful of younger capable free agents hitting the market, it would be fiscally irresponsible for the Sharks to re-sign the aging former captains.
Of all the forwards in the NHL hitting free agency this offseason, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau dealt the biggest cap hits to their club during the '16-'17 season at $6,750,000 and $6,666,668 respectively with the third highest being Patrick Sharp at $5,900,000. That's a substantial gap in the NHL and gives me reason enough to believe that the discount Doug Wilson would ask them to take just won't hold up to an offer either will inevitably receive from a more established team that could use a depth veteran and has the extra cash. I would much rather see the Sharks spend that money on a more youthful long term addition and make one splashy pickup via free agency along the T.J. Oshie, or Patrick Eaves lines OR via trade ala John Tavares, who is in desperate need of a change of scenery.
It's time for Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to fill the old dog roles of Thornton and Marleau for the next decade and for Doug Wilson to give season long auditions to the likes of Kevin Lebanc, Timo Meier, and Danny O'Regan. Fatigue can no longer be an excuse for this organization during the stretch runs and getting younger will go a long way to eliminating it as a threat to the Sharks near future.
Sure, they both say they want to, but if they aren't willing to take on shorter deals for less money, how feasible is it for both of them to stay? It's a personal decision as well; look how long these guys have been in the Bay. You've got to believe that's a factor and that at their age, they aren't as open to the idea of up-rooting their lives and moving on.
That part of it is ultimately between the two of them and Doug Wilson and it's difficult and almost pointless to speculate on. I'm sure they'll both be offered something. If Doug is smart, Jumbo is on a one year contract, to see how he's able to bounce back from a major injury. Marleau gets two years and they both get a pay cut. I wouldn't be surprised if one or both still test free agency and maybe pull a Stamkos when they don't like what they see.
The bigger question is should they stay? I think there's still a small window there for them and it'd change the team pretty drastically to have them both go, especially if they're playing elsewhere. But I think it's important to change the way we use them. We've got to accept that the window for these two is going to close and we've got to get other guys more experience. Taking Joe off that top power play unit would be a start. Maybe bumping the Joes down to the second line. Never ever playing Marleau at center again.
We might get another year or two with these guys and that won't be a bad thing. But we do have to think beyond that, too.
Like most questions about the Sharks’ future, this is predicated on the assumption that Joe Thornton will have more than one functioning leg. I know the team is saying he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but with two torn cruciate ligaments on a 38-year-old body that’s seen as many hard miles as his, I’ll believe it when I see it.
The best way that I think bringing Marleau and Thornton back makes sense is if they both see a significant decrease in usage. That said, the Sharks are projected to have $18 million in cap space next season before any free agents are extended. Even accounting for significant raises to RFAs like Donskoi, Karlsson, Tierney, Sorensen, Dell, Carpenter, Mueller, et al, that leaves a fair amount to work with on short term deals to the elder statesmen. I’d love to see two-year deals in the neighborhood of $3 million, and just loaded to the ceiling with performance bonuses. DW is a loyal dude, though, and, while that’s not a bad thing, I’m not getting my hopes too high on frugality. I would be shocked if either of these guys is playing in any other color come Fall.
What would really excite me is if the coaching staff took an even larger step in the direction they seemed to take last year, and let the vets rest more (strange use of the word “excite” I know). Year after year we see Thornton and Marleau lose a step in the postseason to younger, faster players, and they still carve out effective roles on the team. Imagine the impact they could have in the playoffs if they played 20 games fewer than the younger players across from them. Or 30. Fatigue from Stanley Cup Final runs, World Cups, and All-Star games took its toll on the team this year, and it would be silly not to use this team’s forward depth to its advantage in that regard. It may also make for an easier leadership transition on the ice for the time they finally do leave, long in the future may it be.
I’d be all for ruling Thornton out of back-to-backs, and/or sitting him every few games, especially with this knee injury. Cruciate ligament tears are no joke, and it’s not uncommon for athletes to feel the lingering effects of them for a long time even if they fully heal, which is no guarantee. We don’t know how severe the damage is, but it scares the crap out of me, and I don’t scare easy, except when I see spiders or clowns or the moon or particularly bendy trees or clouds.
It all comes back to how you feel about the first question we tackled: are the Sharks a tomorrow team? I think they are (though not a particularly distant tomorrow team, mind you). Bringing back Marleau and Thornton makes them a better team; too good to lose enough to miss the playoffs next year and get a decent draft pick. So I say no, let them walk.
The Sharks will re-sign Thornton in all likelihood, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marleau sign somewhere else given the kind of term it seems he’s chasing. Even if the Sharks go for it again next year I don’t think it’s a guarantee we see Patty in teal again; and I’m not sure that’s such a terrible thing from a hockey standpoint.