Joe Thornton

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Joe Thornton back with Sharks for another season

Joe Thornton will be back in a San Jose Sharks jersey this fall, his 22nd season in the NHL.

Thornton, 40, signed a one-year contract worth a reported $2 million for the 2019-20 season, which will be his 15th with the organization. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the contract has no bonuses, just straight salary.

The deal for the now-former unrestricted free agent continues a string of one-year contracts for Thornton, who has now signed them in three consecutive years.

“Probably play another 10 years,” Thornton quipped at the 2019 NHL Awards. “We’ll wait and see, but I’m thinking 5 to 10 right now. I got nothing else going on.”

Thornton scored 16 times and helped out on 35 others in 73 games last season, pushing his career points total to 1,478 as he passed Teemu Selanne and Stan Mikita to sit 14th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.

Thornton needs 22 points to become the 14th player in NHL history to reach the 1,500-point milestone. He sits 53 points back of Paul Coffey for 13th on the all-time list and 55 back of Mark Recchi for 12th.

“Words cannot equate the impact that Joe has had on this franchise since his arrival in San Jose in 2005,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a release on the team’s website. “Joe is a generational player who seemingly blazes past an existing Hall-of-Famer with each game he plays. His leadership and dedication to the organization and his teammates is inspiring. He has the rare ability to make the players around him better and we’re excited to see him healthy and back wearing the Sharks crest.”

The Sharks have kept their summer dealings mostly in-house, highlighted by the long-term deal they struck with Erik Karlsson, along with restricted free agent deals with Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, among others.

San Jose reached the Western Conference Final last season before an injury-depleted roster ultimately fell to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues in six games.

The deal comes as a $3 million pay cut for Thornton, who made $5 million last season and $8 million the year prior. The Sharks have just over $2.6 million remaining under the salary cap and a roster of 22 players.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Pominville and other bargain bin NHL free agents to consider

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With training camps nearing, it’s not surprising that you won’t find a ton of great NHL-ready options in free agency as of Sept. 3.

That’s especially true once you start crossing certain names off of the list with the help of context. Jake Gardiner’s either dealing with back issues, or waiting for a team (possibly the Maple Leafs) to sort out cap issues before signing a deal. Justin Williams just announced that he’s taking some time off, at best. Patrick Marleau’s potential options seem cloudy. Joe Thornton appears primed to sign with the Sharks, eventually (maybe).

When you knock those four names off of the list at a place like Cap Friendly, things start to look pretty stark.

Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to bat around a few names, even if there might only be one or two players who end up being worth anything more than a tryout. Let’s consider some that stand out; feel free to bring up other UFAs who might be worth a mention in the comments.

Jason Pominville: One of the few on this list that I’d consider signing to an actual one-year contract, rather than merely a PTO, if it came down to it. Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports that the Montreal Canadiens are considering Pominville, but also reports that nothing is “imminent,” so you’d assume another bidder could roll in.

On one hand, yes, Pominville is 36. There’s some risk that his already marginal potential would boil down to zero considering all of his mileage.

Yet, you’ll note that Pominville managed a respectable 31 points despite minimal ice time, and while much of that offense came alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel, Pominville was one of the best fits with those two. Teams probably won’t ask Pominville to play on a top line very often, but he could be a cheap option to plug into different scenarios.

Pominville comes off reasonably well by a number of metrics, and his RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey looks positive enough:

If it wasn’t already clear, we’re so deep in the discount aisle, we’re actually looking at the stuff that’s in some sad bin outside the store. By those standards, Pominville is reasonably intriguing.

Brian Boyle: At 34, Boyle is no longer the type of center you’d ask to play a “shutdown” role, and he struggled once he was traded to the Predators last season, but this assessment from after that move away from New Jersey still captures Boyle’s value:

If your team’s coach is barking incessantly about adding a big body, you could do worse than Boyle, especially if a team could use someone to screen goalies on the power play. Boyle is a very large human, after all.

Troy Brouwer is another gritty option who could be decent filler.

Thomas Vanek: While Boyle’s largest utility is defense (and being large) at this point, Vanek is all-offense, to the point that he’d likely torment many coaches, particularly since that offense isn’t flowing like it once was.

Still, one could see an argument for Vanek being a power play specialist on a team that lacks a trigger. Is he enough of a net positive to really be worth considering? Debatable.

Tobias Rieder: He was never good enough for an Oilers executive to give him the scapegoat treatment, and it’s undoubtedly been a rough couple of years, but he’s a speedy winger, so there’s at least some appeal there.

Ben Hutton: OK, look … Hutton was abysmal last season. There’s a reason the defense-starved Canucks passed on bringing him back.

Still, Hutton stands out from a pack mostly consisting of way-past-their-prime veterans (Dion Phaneuf, Dan Girardi) in that he’s merely 26 years old. Could Hutton be a serviceable bottom-pairing option after being played well out of his depth with 22:21 ATOI last season? Maybe 2017-18 is a better guide. While Hutton provided marginal offense (six assists in 61 games), his possession numbers were somewhat OK, at least relative to his (bad) teammates, while Hutton averaged a more reasonable 18:25 per night.

There aren’t many signs pointing to Hutton being a “good” defenseman, but could he be an upgrade over a team’s sixth or even seventh option? It’s not out of the question, as the bar is pretty low for bottom pairing defensemen.

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Ideally, your team already has better options than the names mentioned above. Still, there could be some use for players like Pominville, particularly for squads lacking depth.

Now, if your team is looking for a goalie? Well, you could always cross your fingers …

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Three fuzzy questions for the Sharks

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.

Let’s bat around three questions for the Sharks in 2019-20.

1. What’s going on with Joe Thornton?

Every indication is that Thornton is coming back for next season, and that he’ll do so for the Sharks.

But … you know, it’s getting close to September, and he hasn’t signed yet. And Thornton is 40. So it’s fair to wonder until he actually signs on the dotted line for whatever total. Maybe that’s part of the holdup; Cap Friendly estimates the Sharks’ space at about $4.6M with 21 roster spots covered, while Thornton made $5M last season.

With the other Joe (Pavelski) now in Dallas, the Sharks have to hope that Thornton is indeed coming back.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Thornton was impressive last season, managing 51 points in 73 games despite being limited (wisely) to an average ice time of 15:33 per game. His possession stats were outstanding for any age. It’s not only interesting to see if Thornton comes back (and for how much), but also how the Sharks use him. Do they need more from him, or do they keep him at a modified role to preserve the well-traveled veteran?

Actually, that transitions to our second question …

2. Will the veterans avoid the aging curve?

Thornton is the most extreme example of a veteran being asked to play at an advanced age, but with 30 being a point of no return for other players (see: Lucic, Milan), it’s worth wondering if other Sharks can maintain their high levels of play.

Erik Karlsson isn’t quite at that age, but close at 29, and carrying a lot of mileage and pressure. Brent Burns is 34, which is kind of staggering. Logan Couture is also older than some might expect at 30. Martin Jones is 29, Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn’t quite an Olympian any longer at 32, and even Evander Kane is 28.

The Sharks were wise enough to let Joe Pavelski go this summer, which was for the best with their cap constraints, and also he’s in the “somehow” group at 35. Even so, there are quite a few prominent Sharks who could start to decline (or, in some cases, see their abilities plummet … again, see: Milan Lucic). If enough do, this team may be scratching and clawing just to make the playoffs, or worse.

Unless …

3. Can the young guns step up?

Whether Thornton returns or not, Sharks will need more from younger players in a few positions. Pavelski’s gone, as are defensemen Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan.

In some cases, it’s actually easy to see the Sharks making seamless transitions. Timo Meier is a rising star, and he’s done most of his damage without power play time, so expect bigger things with more chances. Tomas Hertl took another step forward as a presence in his own right, while Kevin Labanc seems like a gem, and will have every bit of motivation to cash in after accepting a baffling one-year, $1M contract.

The Sharks will probably need more than just budding stars to confirm their star statuses. They may also need one or more of Dylan Gambrell, Alex True, and Antti Suomela to replace what’s been lost.

They’ll also need head coach Peter DeBoer to tie it all together. Can he integrate younger players, get veterans the right mix between reps and rest, and make it all work enough for the Sharks to remain at a high level, if not climb a bit more? On paper, this looks like a contending team once again, but things can change quickly in the NHL.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Erik Karlsson faces big pressure to live up to new contract

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.

In some ways, the pressure is off Erik Karlsson.

Certainly, he can breathe a sigh of relief after the roller coaster that was last season.

Karlsson had to slug through most of the 2018 offseason surveying the wreckage of the Ottawa Senators, only being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September before the 2018-19 training camp. From there, he had to get used to new teammates and new surroundings, settling into a culture that’s already been established.

Oh yeah, he also had to hope that his body would hold up during a crucial contract year, which was a pretty significant gamble.

Now Karlsson is settled in. His contract is mammoth: eight years, $92 million, which means his AAV is $11.5M. To start, Karlsson receives $11M in a signing bonus, plus another $3.5M in base salary. That money, combined with previous career earnings, means that his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and so on should be taken care of. Karlsson even has a no-movement clause through the full extent of that contract, which runs through 2026-27.

So, from an existential standpoint, the heat is off.

But for a player whose critics have piled up along with his individual trophies, this contract also brings with it an exceptional portion of pressure.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | X-factor]

Karlsson, 29, is at an unclear fork in the road. Was 2018-19 a physical blip on the radar – did he just merely put off surgery, and he’ll be good as new? – or is his body breaking down after all of those years of carrying the Senators, not to mention after suffering injuries freakish enough that Eugene Melnyk wanted to order crime scene investigations? Will Karlsson be hobbled for the rest of his career, or will we at least be treated to a few more runs of Karlsson at his best, which ranks as some of the best work we’ve seen from a modern defenseman?

The Sharks are certainly paying him to play that role.

Karlsson carries the highest cap hit of any defenseman, easily outranking fellow Sharks star defenseman Brent Burns‘ $8M, which isn’t exactly cheap either. The closest comparable is Drew Doughty‘s, who received the same basic deal, only his kicked in a year earlier, at slightly lower rate of $11M.

The Doughty – Karlsson comparisons can be thorny, especially if you play into Doughty’s side, noting the two Stanley Cup rings and low-mistake peak, arguments Doughty hasn’t been shy to lean into himself. Conversely, you could use Doughty’s immense struggles in 2018-19, merely the first year of his current deal, and note that big defenseman contracts can become regrettable almost from day one.

As forward-thinking as the Sharks have been in letting an aging Joe Pavelski walk (and Patrick Marleau before him), San Jose still seems to be in something of a “win-now,” or at least soon, mode.

Burns is, somehow, 34 already. Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s lost many steps at 32. Logan Couture is 30, and Erik Karlsson himself is 29. As fantastic and in-their-primes as Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are, the majority of the Sharks’ core players are guys who could hit their aging curves, hard. And maybe soon.

A possibly closing window, and all that money, puts the pressure on Karlsson. If the Sharks fall short, people will probably blame Karlsson much like they blamed Marleau and Joe Thornton back during their peak years with San Jose. Even if it’s really about goaltending.

Karlsson isn’t a stranger to pressure. He was the top guy in Ottawa, and someone whose mistakes were amplified for those who wanted to elevate a Doughty-type Norris usurper. Yet, even during those times, expectations weren’t often all that high for Senators teams — how often were they labeled underdogs? — and Karlsson was a relative bargain at his previous $6.5M cap hit.

Now he’s the most expensive defenseman in the NHL, and only $1M cheaper than Connor McDavid, the highest-paid player in the entire league.

Combine all of those factors, and you’ll see that Karlsson is under serious pressure in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

One month into NHL free agency, who’s left on the market?

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The NHL free agent market opened one month ago today and there was plenty of cash thrown around and faces headed for new places. While there were 126 signings of different varieties on July 1 there have been 167 total in the 30 days since.

Even with all those contracts signed, there are still plenty of potentially helpful unrestricted free agents available on the market. We know how strong the restricted crop that’s left is, but that’s a different story altogether.

Let’s take a look at some of the UFAs still unsigned.

HOME OR RETIREMENT
Niklas Kronwall, 38
Patrick Marleau, 39
Joe Thornton, 39
Justin Williams, 37

Don’t expect any of these four to join new teams. In the case of Marleau, he’d be going home after a few years in Toronto and very quick stop as a member of the Hurricanes. Either these players will return to the teams they’re most identified with on one-year deals or they will hang up their skates.

HEADED FOR A PTO?
Scott Darling, 30
Ben Lovejoy, 35
Marc Methot, 34
Dion Phaneuf, 34
Cam Ward, 35

Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, all teams must dress at least eight “veterans” for any preseason game. A veteran is a in this sense is considered forward or defenseman who played 30 games in the previous season, a goaltender who dressed in 50 games or played in 30 the previous season, or any player who has 100 or more career NHL games under their belt. That’s why we see lot of veterans on tryout deals in training camp, so these five players, given their ages and on-ice struggles would be placed in the “possible PTO” folder. In some cases a team can bring them in to create competition at a position in order to get the most out of the players currently under contract before ultimately releasing them.

FORWARDS

Brian Boyle, 34 – The feel-good story from the 2017-18 season needs a new home and anyone looking for a bottom line center who can help your penalty kill could get a bargain here. Between the Devils and Predators last season he scored 18 goals and recorded 24 points.

Derick Brassard, 31 – It’s been a weird few years for Brassard after he scored 46 goals and recorded 118 points in his final two seasons with the Rangers. He was shipped to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad and then moved to Pittsburgh before spending last season with the Penguins, Avalanche and Panthers. He’s shown he can still be productive at the NHL level, but this past season was one to forget.

Patrick Maroon, 31 – He took a discount to come home and helped St. Louis win its first Stanley Cup. It will be hard for Maroon to top what happened in 2018-19, but he showed that his physical style can make a difference on the right team. He may be hoping for a multi-year deal, which could be the reason for the delay in signing.

Jason Pominville, 36 – A solid depth addition, Pominville put up a second straight 16-goal season with Buffalo in 2018-19. He also averaged 1.68 points per game at even strength per 60 minutes over the last two seasons, according to Corsica.

Tobias Rieder, 26 – Like Boyle, Rieder can help your penalty kill, but he saw a sharp drop off in production last season with the Oilers. In 67 games, the forward went goalless and recorded 11 points. Before last season, he had reached double digits in goals in each of his four NHL seasons with the Coyotes and Kings. Rieder looks like a real bounce-back candidate in 2019-20.

DEFENSEMEN

Jake Gardiner, 28 – He may not win any Norris Trophies, but he can play 20 minutes a night, be a power play quarterback, and provide production from the blue line. And at this point in time, his contract demands have likely dropped, so there could be a potential bargain here. Gardiner scored three goals and record 30 points in only 62 games last season with the Maple Leafs. He won’t be any team’s No. 1 right now, but he would definitely bolster a blue line.

Ben Hutton, 26 – Hutton will help a team’s power play and penalty kill and be able to give a team over 20 minutes a night. He tied his career high in goals last season with the Canucks with five and tallied 20 points, the second-highest total of his young career

Other notables: Andrew MacDonald; Dan Girardi; Thomas Vanek, Val Nichushkin; Riley Sheahan; Dmitrij Jaskin; Devante Smith-Pelly; Chad Johnson; Troy Brouwer; Drew Stafford; Marko Dano; Matt Read; Zac Rinaldo.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.