Joe Thornton (left) and Dan Boyle (right) could be moved if the Sharks get off to a slow start in 2013-14. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Sharks checklist, No. 6: Explore market for Thornton, Boyle
June 7, 2013, 9:00 am
Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz will present 10 suggestions (one per weekday) for what the Sharks should do before training camp opens in mid-September. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.
#6 –- Explore the trade market for Thornton and Boyle
As successful as the second half of the Sharks’ season was, as San Jose went 12-5-1 to close out the regular season and advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are no guarantees that the team will simply pick up where it left off in October. In 2011, after the club lost to Vancouver in the Western Conference final, general manager Doug Wilson made a pair of blockbuster trades with Minnesota when he acquired Brent Burns and Marty Havlat and sent Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle packing.
Could he have something major in mind for the 2013 offseason?
It’s probably unlikely, considering that the Sharks seemed to have a real chemistry in the locker room and were “playing for each other,” in the words of head coach Todd McLellan. Still, Wilson is known as one of the more active general managers around the league when it comes to keeping lines of communication open with other GMs, and he has a pair of assets in Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle that are entering the last years of their respective contracts and are still very effective players.
Putting out some feelers in the offseason for Thornton and Boyle makes sense, and if the Sharks struggle out of the gate in 2013-14, it might be time to finally break up the core group that has failed to get the club to the final round.
First, Thornton. As well as he played in the playoffs, it was a bit of an inconsistent season for the captain and leading scorer. Thornton was benched in the third period of a game in Columbus on April 9, a 4-0 Sharks loss. On April 21, again in a game with the Blue Jackets, he took some shifts with fourth line wingers Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish, although McLellan downplayed the apparent demotion afterwards, as he shook up all of his forward lines in a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.
Even in the playoffs, where Thornton had two goals and eight assists for 10 points, his Game 7 performance against the Kings drew some pointed criticism from NBC analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury after San Jose’s 2-1 loss ended its season.
It’s fair to wonder, too, if Thornton’s game still fits Wilson and McLellan’s philosophy of playing a north-south game, skating in straight lines and getting the puck to the net as quickly as possible, as Thornton has made a potential Hall of Fame career out of slowing the game down and making a perfect tape-to-tape pass to a teammate.
Boyle is the more movable option, as the defenseman has a limited no-trade clause while Thornton has a full no-trade, according to CapGeek.com. The 36-year-old’s minutes were noticeably scaled down throughout the season, as he was essentially taken off of the team’s penalty kill unit. Boyle skated less than 23 minutes per game in the regular season, that lowest that number has been in his Sharks career. Even so, he was still arguably the team's best defenseman and was a key component to the top power play unit.
Wilson may very well have had conversations with other clubs about those players around the trade deadline, but the Sharks’ five-game winning streak after the Douglas Murray trade and before the April 3 deadline resulted in the minor roster tweaks that energized the club and brought it within one game of the conference finals.
Getting a sense of what kind of market is out there for those two players in particular would be a good idea, or the Sharks could risk losing them both for nothing this time next year. And, if the deal is good enough, maybe it comes sooner than later.