Joe Thornton back in action for Game 3 versus Oilers

Joe Thornton back in action for Game 3 versus Oilers

SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton made his 2017 playoff debut on Sunday at SAP Center in Game 3 of the Sharks’ first round series with Edmonton.

Thornton missed the final three games of the regular season and first two games of the playoffs with an apparent left knee injury suffered on April 2 in Vancouver. After going through his normal game day routine on Sunday morning in which he skated for approximately 15 minutes, Thornton returned to the Sharks’ top line with Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson.

In 156 career playoff games entering Sunday, Thornton has 121 points (27g, 94a) and a minus-25 rating. In 79 games in the regular season, the 37-year-old had 50 points (7g, 43a) and a plus-seven rating.

To make way for Thornton, forward Mikkel Boedker was a healthy scratch. Boedker, who signed a four-year contract with the Sharks in the offseason, was scoreless with a minus-one rating in the first two games.

Also of note was that Logan Couture, who suffered severe damage to his mouth on March 25, ditched the full cage he had been wearing through the first two games of the series. The second line center returned for Game 1 after he missed the final seven games of the regular season, and will require extensive dental work in the offseason. 

Couture skated on the second line between Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward, while the third line was Tomas Hertl with wingers Jannik Hansen and Joonas Donskoi. Chris Tierney centered a fourth line between rookies Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen.

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

The mere thought of Joe Thornton wearing a Kings sweater may be enough to cause some Sharks fans to lose their lunch.

But it might be a possibility.

According to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, the Kings consider Thornton to be a “priority” should be hit the open market as a free agent. While the two sides are currently allowed to express mutual interest, NHL rules forbid them from discussing terms of any deal until Saturday at 9 a.m. PT.

Rosen points to a number of individuals in the Kings' organization that have ties to Thornton, including general manager Rob Blake, who played on the Sharks with Thornton from 2008-10. Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager in Boston and currently serves as the Kings’ senior advisor to the general manager. Glen Murray, a former teammate and frequent linemate of Thornton’s with the Bruins for three-and-a-half seasons, is in Kings player development.

The Kings, under new management since replacing Dean Lombardi with Blake, and head coach Darryl Sutter with John Stevens, have put a priority on finding players this offseason that can get pucks to dangerous scoring areas. 

Adding one of the best passers in the history of the NHL would surely help in that regard. Thornton sits 13th in the NHL all-time with 1,007 assists.

Rosen writes: “Los Angeles has been a dominant possession team without being a high scoring team for the better part of the last six-plus seasons, and it was articulated earlier in the off-season that the team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of that possession discrepancy. In trying to find players with the ability to turn possession into actual production, the team has placed an emphasis on finding players capable of distributing the puck into high-danger in the attacking zone. There might not be another player in the NHL – let alone unrestricted free agents – who is as gifted of a passer of Thornton, which places the team’s needs in concert with the future Hall of Famer’s skill set.”

As reported here previously Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, is seeking a deal of three years. That might not be agreeable to the Sharks, who are likely to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term and expensive contract extensions that would kick in with the 2018-19 season.

Of course, Thornton could also be using the Kings as leverage to get a new deal in San Jose, where he would prefer to remain.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.