Two of San Jose’s most important and longest-tenured players, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
Given the Sharks are in the midst of their Stanley Cup window — with Thornton and Marleau playing significant roles — it seems odd neither has put pen to paper on an extension yet.
But the Mercury News has a theory on why:
Here’s where it gets interesting. Next season, the NHL is adding a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights. That franchise will participate in an expansion draft. It will happen in June, a few days before the annual entry draft. Each existing NHL team can protect either seven or eight forwards from being selected by the Golden Knights. However, pending unrestricted free agents will not be eligible for the expansion draft.
In other words, it behooves Wilson and the Sharks not to sign Marleau and Thornton until after the expansion draft. That way, the two players would not count toward the seven or eight forwards on the Sharks’ protected list (the exact number depends on choices the Sharks make at other positions.)
San Jose’s in a fairly unique position for the expansion draft. It is one of four teams not required to protect anybody — Calgary, St. Louis and Washington are the others — and, with the addition of the aforementioned Thornton-Marleau scenario, GM Doug Wilson would have serious flexibility when it comes to exposing players.
Not that he’s willing to divulge any information.
“My position is that I have no comment on that,” Wilson told the Mercury News. “People can anticipate and speculate about what our approach might be.”
ESPN touched on this potential scenario last month, noting that Wilson has some big decisions to make regardless if he chooses the seven forwards-three-defensemen-one goalie protected list, or the eight-skaters-and-a-goalie setup:
If you go 7-3-1, it means you protect just three defensemen — Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and probably Justin Braun — which then leaves Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and David Schlemko among those exposed.
What if the Sharks decide to go the 8-1 protection format route in order to protect four defensemen? That means only four forwards could be protected: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and then take your pick from either Mikkel Boedker, Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson or Chris Tierney. (Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are exempt.)
The risk in letting Thornton and Marleau get to free agency, of course, is that someone makes an offer neither can refuse. But it could be a risk worth taking. It’s fair to assume any potential offer would have to be massive in scope, given Thorton’s and Marleau’s ties to the Bay Area — the latter has spent his entire 20-year career with the Sharks, while the former has been there for over a decade.
Right now, there’s not much information about what type of extensions San Jose is offering. ESPN reported Thornton is eyeing another three-year deal — his last was a three-year, $20.25 million contract — and things are almost entirely silent on the Marleau front.