SAN JOSE — The verdict is in: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both want to re-sign with the Sharks in the offseason.
The question now is whether the organization wants to bring back the two cornerstones of the franchise and how to make the numbers work under the salary cap.
With Thornton and Marleau entering unrestricted free agency on July 1, the Sharks are facing their biggest offseason in years. In addition to determining the veteran forwards’ futures with the organization, general manager Doug Wilson will need make decisions regarding the expansion draft, the team’s four restricted free agents and how to extend the contracts of defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goalie Martin Jones, who are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2018.
“These guys have been cornerstones of this franchise for a long time, not only as players as people. There’s a lot of variables that go into that decision.” Wilson said, discussing Thornton and Marleau’s upcoming free agency. “It’s a cap system, there’s a lot of different things. They are very, very special members of this organization. We’ll sit down and talk to them.”
When Wilson sits down to discuss new contracts with Thornton and Marleau, he’ll learn, if he doesn’t already know, that both players want to return to the club.
Thornton left no question about whether he wants to return to San Jose for a 13th season with the Sharks Monday.
“I want to come back. I think this is a Stanley Cup-caliber team.” Thornton said. “Of course, I’d like to come back. But we’ll have to see. I’m sure we’ll be talking.”
“This team’s a real talented team and I love playing here.”
Marleau also expressed a desire to stay with the club with whom he’s played all of his 1,493 NHL games with dating back to his rookie season in 1997-98.
When asked if he’d like to rejoin the team, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. There’s a lot a time here before the decision has to be made.”
The 37-year-old forward, who potted 27 goals and recorded 46 points this year, thinks he still has, “another five good years,” left to play, “maybe more.”
Although both Thornton and Marleau expressed a desire to return, neither player has begun contract negotiations with the club. With the expansion draft coming up on June 21, it’s unlikely that either player will sign before July 1 because they would then need to be protected.
Regardless, the guys in the Sharks locker room are clear about how they want the team to proceed with Thornton and Marleau’s contract negotiations.
“Guys like that aren’t growing on trees,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You hear about the age stuff, but those guys are both still in great shape. Every day they put the work in. They’re elite players, so age doesn’t matter.”
Captain Joe Pavelski said the Sharks, “hope to see them back.”
“We really do,” he said. “I believe they have a lot of good hockey left. Everything will take care of itself. There’s too much out there to really make any suggestions of what will happen, can happen.”
As Pavelski suggests, Wilson will be dealing with a lot of moving pieces this summer.
Re-signing Thornton and Marleau will require negotiations on salary and term and the Sharks won’t know exactly how much money will be available until the NHL determines what the salary cap will be after the playoffs conclude in June. The Sharks could also gain more flexibility depending on which player they lose to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
The Sharks will have the choice of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight total skaters on June 21. They won’t need to protect Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Sorensen, Timo Meier or Kevin Labanc because none of those players have accumulated more than two years of professional experience in North America.
The Sharks will also need to work out contracts with their restricted free agents Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney, Mirco Mueller, Donskoi and Sorensen, assuming they aren’t acquired by the Golden Knights. Like Thornton and Marleau, Micheal Haley will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
In addition to figuring out Thornton and Marleau’s futures with the club, the Sharks are hoping to extend the contracts of Vlasic and Jones before training camp kicks off next fall, which could be costly, impacting the amount of salary the team has available to re-sign the veteran forwards.
“Everybody is connected. It’s a cap system,” Wilson said. “Martin Jones is everything we expected him to be and he’s crucial. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is arguably one of the best defensemen in the league and you saw what he did against one of the top players in the league (Connor McDavid).”
“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract.”
When asked if he expects to remain with the Sharks in the future, Vlasic said “hopefully.” Jones also expressed a desire to reach a long-term deal with the club.
“Absolutely. Yeah, I love it here,” Jones said. “Like I said, the guys are great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. City has been great. The fans are awesome, and we have a great team. I’m excited.”