SAN JOSE – It’s been a whirlwind few days around the Sharks organization. To quickly recap for those that have been sunbathing, scarfing down hot dogs or sparking up fireworks: Joe Thornton is back for another year, Patrick Marleau is off to Toronto, and crucial pieces Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are locked up long term.
For the 15th straight summer Doug Wilson is overseeing the transition from one year to the next. And so far, he’s looking pretty good.
Marleau’s departure, of course, is the most emotional moment for the fan base since the 2016 Stanley Cup Final – maybe even more so. I get the impression many Sharks supporters would have preferred to keep him around at any cost. Detractors will point to the team’s inability to win a Stanley Cup in the 19 seasons has was on the roster, and his frustrating nature of going extended stretches without having an impact, but my sense is that they are in the minority.
But Wilson offering him anything close to the three-year, $18.75 million contract that Marleau got in Toronto would have been nonsensical. Frankly, the two-year, $10 million offer that was reportedly on the table for Marleau might have been too much for a team that has $52.5 million tied up in contracts for just 11 players in 2018-19 (and Thornton a pending free agent again).
Wilson may have only tacked on that second year in his attempt to placate Thornton, who was desperately trying to keep Marleau in the dressing room. Frankly, it’s fair to wonder if the organization is a bit relieved that Marleau didn’t take that final two-year offer.
Offering Marleau a third year in 2019-20 at the age of 40 was a deal breaker for Wilson for good reason. Not only will the Sharks have Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones making big money, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are both due to unrestricted. If Tomas Hertl develops into the player the organization still hopes he’ll become, he could be making a pretty penny by then. Mikkel Boedker will potentially still be on the books. Prospects like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will have expiring entry-level deals, and if they or others in the system become full time NHL’ers, they could be getting big raises, too.
Paying an old, declining winger $5 million or more that season was a risk that Wilson was rightfully not willing to take.
As for Thornton, we predicted here before the NHL draft that Wilson might be making a calculated risk, knowing that Thornton – who originally wanted a three-year deal – was too committed to the area to sign anywhere else. That seems to be how this played out. Thornton’s one-year, $8 million deal is an expensive one, but it still makes sense from a team perspective considering his importance on and off the ice. The Sharks have the cap space to give Thornton that kind of money, and they are also protecting themselves with the one-year term in case Thornton has any problems with his surgically repaired left knee.
And if Thornton comes back strong next season, Wilson now knows for certain that the future Hall of Famer doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Getting Thornton to agree to another one-year deal, if that’s what Wilson wants, shouldn’t be nearly as complicated next time with Marleau already gone.
Don’t overlook, either, how Wilson managed to painlessly extend Jones and Vlasic to contracts that are fair for both sides. Had those contract talks lingered into the season it would have been an unnecessary distraction.
That’s not to say that the general manager should now pack up his bags and go on a two-month vacation until training camp begins. The Sharks still have cap space to add another impact player, and I would argue they should be on the lookout for another forward, probably though a trade now that the free agent market has dried up. I would be surprised if they paid the kind of price that Colorado reportedly is seeking for Matt Duchene, but perhaps others like Vegas’ James Neal or Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk are possibilities.
So far, though, Wilson has made the right moves in what has already been an eventful offseason.