Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.

Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.

While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.

Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.

General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.

There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve). 

Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

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AP

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

The NHL offseason is about to heat up with the draft this weekend in Chicago and the start of free agency on July 1. Here’s what we’re hearing in regards to the Sharks, who could be at an organizational crossroads…

What’s the latest with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau?

It’s been quiet regarding to two franchise cornerstones that could officially become unrestricted free agents in eight days and are free to speak with other teams on Sunday. There has been dialogue, as Doug Wilson has said, but the general manager always prefers to keep contract negotiations private.

We do know that there have never been any gentleman’s agreements between the Sharks and Thornton and Marleau for after the expansion draft. I continue to see this theory suggested by some – both media and fans alike – but it’s simply not true, as we've reported here in the past.

At this point, Thornton and Marleau will surely wait until June 25 to see what kind of offers roll in from other clubs. They should learn pretty quickly what kind of interest is out there.

From the Sharks’ perspective, the term of any potential deal is vital. If Thornton and Marleau still want at least three years – as we’ve reported here previously – that might not work for the Sharks, as their top offseason priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions. 

Wilson could be taking a calculated risk, especially in Thornton’s case, as the general manager no doubt knows that Thornton would prefer to stay in San Jose (it’s less clear how much Marleau wants to return). If there aren’t any other teams out there willing to sign a 38-year-old player coming off of a significant knee injury to a three-year deal, Thornton could settle for a one or two-year deal to stay with the Sharks. If another team is willing to go that long, Thornton could always give the Sharks a chance to match.

Which Sharks players could be on the move in a potential trade?

There have already been a few huge trades as of Friday morning, including the Blue Jackets snagging Artemi Panarin from Chicago for Brandon Saad, the Coyotes acquiring Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the Rangers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago.

Could the Sharks join the party? It’s certainly possible, as the team could probably use another forward or two than can put the puck in the net.

I could see the Sharks dangling Chris Tierney, for reasons that I laid out last week on my Facebook page when I thought that the club might protect a fourth defenseman and leave Tierney unprotected. In short, Ryan Carpenter’s return should make Tierney more expendable; coach Pete DeBoer has been pretty critical of Tierney in the past; and Tierney, a pending restricted free agent, remains unsigned. 

Further, you have to wonder if Tierney might be better off on another team for his own growth. If the Sharks re-sign Thornton, Tierney will be firmly entrenched as the fourth line center behind Thornton, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Could his camp be pushing for a trade, prompting the Sharks to make sure they kept Carpenter around?

As for other potential trade bait, the Sharks have some organizational depth at defense right now, even after they shipped Mirco Mueller to the Devils. Perhaps they try and move one of their established defenseman for the right price, if they think any of the youngsters are ready to make the leap to the NHL, or maybe they could move one of the blue line prospects for an established veteran scorer.

It’s worth noting, too, that one source texted me last week, “I think there is more coming from Doug and crew.”

Is Micheal Haley going to return?

The only other UFA from the Sharks’ NHL roster last season, other than Thornton and Marleau, is Haley.

There continues to be mutual interest between the two sides. Pete DeBoer likes Haley, he’s a respected guy in the dressing room, and his teammates appreciate the role he plays. That doesn’t mean a deal will get done, as the Sharks have more pressing matters to navigate through first, but Haley could be back in the fall.

The Sharks have some key restricted free agents, too. What’s going on with those guys?

The deadline to qualify restricted free agents is Sunday. Expect the Sharks to qualify Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow.

The remaining RFAs are Nikita Jevpalovs, Mantas Armalis and Patrick McNally. All three could be allowed to walk, and therefore become unrestricted.

Sharks GM Wilson opens up on contract talks with Marleau, Thornton

Sharks GM Wilson opens up on contract talks with Marleau, Thornton

After suffering a significant left knee injury late in the season and undergoing surgery on April 24, Joe Thornton remains on schedule with his rehab.

According to general manager Doug Wilson, Thornton is still expected to be ready by the start of the 2017-18 season after he suffered torn MCL and ACL ligaments in a game in Vancouver on April 2, yet bravely returned midway through the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

“Jumbo is doing extremely well,” Wilson said. “He’s been [at Sharks Ice] every day, looks really good. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll be ready and fit to start the season. The work that he’s put in already, that’s pure Jumbo. He loves the game. I see him every day here at the rink.”

Whether Thornton, a pending unrestricted free agent, returns to the Sharks is still unclear. Wilson wasn’t offering much in terms of where negotiations stand with Thornton or fellow pending unrestricted free agent Patrick Marleau.

“As far as the negotiations, some of it depends on where the overall cap number is going to be, and obviously…there are some other key contracts that I have to try and get in place. As far as both Patty and Jumbo, we’ve had some dialogue. That will continue and remain private.”

The salary cap for the 2017-18 season has yet to be released by the league. According to several reports, the NHLPA was set to vote on Friday on whether to raise the cap to $75 million from its current $73 million.

Wilson’s top priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions. The general manager said he’s “making progress” with both, “but there’s still some work to be done.” They can officially sign on July 1.

It is likely at this point that Thornton and Marleau will both wait until June 25 at the earliest before doing anything, as that is the date that other teams are permitted to speak with unrestricted free agents. According to multiple sources, there are no backroom-type “handshake deals” in place for either of the two franchise cornerstones that would allow the Sharks to protect extra players in the expansion draft.

As reported here previously, Thornton would still prefer a three-year contract, and is likely seeking at least $5 million per season. Marleau is also seeking a contract of at least three years, according to a source. Both players will turn 38 before the start of the regular season, so whether they would be able to command those sorts of deals on the open market is difficult to ascertain.

There are important days ahead for all involved parties. Uncertainty abounds, at least for now.

“When it comes to making hockey decisions we have to make the decisions under this cap system that makes sense,” Wilson said. “They’ve meant a lot to us, they mean a lot to us.” 

“We’re exploring, and trying to do everything we can to make the right decisions for this franchise. They have choices also, obviously.”