Thornton: Monday an 'important' day

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Thornton: Monday an 'important' day

SAN JOSE Time is getting short for the San Jose Sharks.

The team has just 18 games left in the regular season, and is precariously close to dropping out of the top eight in the Western Conference. Rest will be at a premium, too, with 15 games over the next 26 days to close out the month of March.

Thats what makes days like Monday so invaluable to the club, as it desperately tries to end its funk of eight losses in the last 10 games (2-6-1), and 10 losses out of 15 (5-9-1). The Sharks conclude a four-game home-stand on Tuesday against Edmonton.

This is the first practice weve had in a long time, said Todd McLellan, who plans to return to the bench on Tuesday from his concussion, provided he was feeling better later Monday evening.

Today, we spent an hour and 20 minutes on the ice we havent done that in a long time reviewing a lot of different areas. Resetting things for the guys that have been here in the past, and trying to clarify for the new players.

It was nice, just to review a bunch of things, Joe Thornton said. Weve got some new guys in the lineup, just to review stuff for them. Its good for us guys that have been here for a little bit to go over things, too. An important day today.

McLellan mentioned the length of the session at Sharks Ice, but it wasnt 80 minutes of skating and battling. Quite the contrary, as the head coach slowly walked through his systems and pointed out where every player needs to be on the ice in every situation.

That includes the penalty kill. Newcomers Dominic Moore and Daniel Winnik were brought in specifically to help in that aspect, therefore lessening the burden for players like Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, who could instead use that time on the bench resting up for an even-strength shift rather than expunging valuable energy trying to kill off a penalty.

For Moore, acquired on Feb. 16 from Tampa Bay, it was his first practice at Sharks Ice. Ditto for Winnik and TJ Galiardi, brought in via trade a week ago.

Every teams got their own systems. A lot of things are similar and theres obviously some differences. Going through the paces like that helps, Moore said. Especially like something like the penalty kill. Everyone has to read and react together. Everyone has to be on that same page.

Winnik, who skated about three minutes a game shorthanded with the Avalanche, was asked how difficult it is trying to learn another teams strategy so late in the season. At some point, hell be relied upon to improve the leagues 28th ranked PK unit.

Here we play a completely different style than how Colorado does. Colorado is pressure, pressure, pressure, where here its kind of sit back and make your reads and see what plays they make as opposed to dictating the plays they make, Winnik said. Its something Ill have to adjust to. Im used to just diving into guys, and here its not like that. It might just take a bit.

Of course, ending a losing streak is going to take more than buttoning up the systematic play and practicing. The Sharks have had trouble putting 60-minute efforts together all season long, but especially for the last six weeks.

Its the biggest reason the team finds itself on the precipice of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

Maybe guys are squeezing their sticks a little bit tighter, and the execution just might not be there, Thornton said. Youve got to rest your mind and rest your body and just try to grab confidence from experiences youve had in the past and just go out and do it.

Logan Couture said: Theres a lot of improvement from the way weve played the last month or so. We know everyone in the room can play better than the way theyve played.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

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AP

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

The Sharks have signed Czech defenseman Radim Simek to a one-year contract.

The two-way deal, originally reported by Radio Praha in the Czech Republic, is expected to be announced by the Sharks later this week, according to a source. Simek just finished competing for his country in the 2017 IIHF World Championships, skating in all eight games for the Czech Republic while posting one goal, one assist, 11 shots and a minus-two rating.

Simek, 24, has spent the last five seasons in the Czech League. In 42 games for Liberec in 2016-17, he posted 24 points (11g, 13a) and 30 penalty minutes with a plus-18 rating. A left-handed shot, he is listed at five-foot-11 and 196 pounds on the IIHF website.

The New York Rangers were also interested in Simek, according to the report.

Simek will likely begin next season with the AHL Barracuda.

The Sharks have signed a number of free agents out of Europe in recent seasons, including Joonas Donskoi in 2015 and Marcus Sorensen and Tim Heed last May.

 

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

More than four weeks have passed since the Sharks were dispatched by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear no closer to signing contract extensions than when the season ended. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson faces some of the toughest decisions of his 14-year tenure as the head of the hockey department in the coming weeks, beginning with the two best players in franchise history.

And, no, there are no back room handshake deals here between the Sharks and either of Thornton or Marleau, allowing the Sharks to protect extra players in the upcoming expansion draft. The two veterans are still pending unrestricted free agents in the truest sense, and it’s no certainty that either will return to San Jose.

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Re-signing Thornton would seem to be more of a priority than re-signing Marleau, as centermen are more valuable than wingers. Thornton’s line, with Joe Pavelski and whoever the left wing happened to be, was still drawing the opposition’s top defense pair on many nights this season. Marleau was on that line at times, but was shuffled up and down throughout the year, spending about half the season on the third line.

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL. As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, the World Cup, and the condensed schedule seemed to take their toll. Thornton, who typically downplays anything remotely negative, admitted more than once that this season in particular was a grind.

But perhaps just as important to the Sharks is what Thornton brings to the team emotionally. Pavelski may still be the captain – and an effective one, at that – but Thornton is still the heartbeat. Pete DeBoer made that clear after Game 2 of the first round against the Oilers, talking about what Thornton’s absence from the bench in those first two games meant to the team in terms of a bench presence.

“It’s old school accountability with Joe. It’s black and white,” DeBoer said. “He came up in an era and at a time and around people who you weren’t worried about hurting feelings. You said what needed to be said. That’s not always the case now in modern dressing rooms and with modern athletes. He’s a great resource for us, because there’s no greater pressure than peer pressure, especially from a Hall of Fame guy like that.”

So what might it take to retain Thornton and keep him from hitting the open market? 

It has been previously reported that Thornton wanted a three-year deal, and that remains the case. As for money, I would expect Thornton – who has taken hometown discounts in the past to stay in San Jose – to ask for at least $5 million per season, minimum. Our best guess here is that a Thornton-Sharks pre-July 1 agreement would probably look something like three years and somewhere between $15 – 17 million.

Whether the Sharks would be willing to make that kind of commitment to Thornton, who will be 38 in July, is unclear. If they are not, Thornton could listen to offers from other teams beginning on June 24, when the window opens for unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams.

Still, Thornton’s first choice is to remain in San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anyone that could replace him on or off the ice. There should be a deal to be made here, either sooner or later.

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Marleau’s future with the Sharks seems much hazier.

Unlike Thornton – who put up with public ridicule from Wilson and had his captaincy stripped – Marleau’s commitment to the organization hasn’t been quite as steadfast. Recall in 2015, of course, when Marleau’s preference for a brief stretch was to leave the Sharks. We reported here in November, 2015 that he was willing to accept a trade to three teams, while ESPN reported that Marleau’s agent was “quietly exploring the market” as late as January, 2016.

While those feelings seem to have passed over time, Marleau hasn’t been as emphatic as Thornton in his desire to return. When asked on April 24 if he would like to come back to the Sharks, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

At this point, though, Marleau may be asking for a bit much in his next deal. It’s believed that the franchise’s all-time leading scorer is, like Thornton, seeking a contract of at least three years.

That shouldn’t be overly surprising. When asked then if he wanted a multi-year deal on April 24, Marleau said: “Yeah, I think so. … I still feel like I have at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

As we wrote here in early February, it may not make much sense for the Sharks to commit to Marleau for more than one year for a number of reasons, including potential long-term (and surely expensive) contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something Wilson has made his top priority this offseason. 

If Marleau is seeking a lengthy commitment from San Jose, I don’t see how that works from a business perspective for San Jose, which has a number of prospects in the system at wing that could potentially fill the hole Marleau would leave. Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, in particular, could be ready to take the next step, and both would be much cheaper options (Meier has two years left on his entry level deal, while Sorensen is a pending restricted free agent that won’t require a huge raise).

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Further complicating matters is that Thornton has never been shy about wanting to win with Marleau by his side. The two famously announced their nearly identical three-year contract extensions on Jan. 24, 2014, and Thornton would still prefer to have Marleau return to San Jose with him.

“Hopefully, I can come back and Patty can come back,” Thornton said after the season ended. “I think this team is a very good team. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team. I really believe that."

Considering the salary cap for next season has not yet been revealed, and that Wilson can’t officially extend Jones or Vlasic until July 1, the general manager could be forced to wait a little while before finalizing anything with either Thornton or Marleau. That makes it all the more likely that the Thornton and Marleau camps will at least get an opportunity to hear from other clubs and consider other offers in late June.

In short, anything is still possible. And Wilson, Thornton and Marleau all have some difficult decisions on the horizon in a Sharks offseason that is unlike any other.