July 1 is Canada Day, when our neighbor to the north celebrates its existence. It is also crazy money free agent day in the NHL, when unrestricted free agents have their contracts expire and teams can fight each other for the right to back up a truck of money to a player’s porch to get them to come play for them.
This year the Sharks had two significant free agents: Patrick Marleau, who’s played every game in his 19 year career with the Sharks, and Joe Thornton, who was traded to the Sharks by Boston and has become the team’s legitimate franchise player and future Hall of Famer.
When the dust settled, the Sharks were able to re-sign Joe Thornton for one year, but Patrick Marleau took a three year deal and is now a Toronto Maple Leaf. This is the end of an era with San Jose, and let me say this up front: Thornton is a no-brainer hall of fame player and possibly a first ballot; Patrick Marleau will some day have his jersey retired to the rafters in San Jose, should be a Hall of Fame, but I’m not convinced given the talent in the league that he’ll get that recognition.
Two other significant Sharks deals got done, with Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Martin Jones signed up to long-term deals.
My take on these deals: they’re all great for San Jose, and the Leafs deal is great for Patrick Marleau. Everyone wins.
It would have been nice to have Marleau retire as a Shark, but the word out through the media was that he very much wanted a three year deal, and ultimately, Toronto gave it to him (along with $15+ million and no-movement clauses. wow). He’d be insane not to take that deal; the Sharks would be insane to come close to matching it. Word in the media is that they were offering 2 years at $10, which I would be comfortable with.
The thing is, in San Jose, Marleau’s really our third line center now, and my view is he’s closer to retirement than Thornton is; he’s seemed to fade late in seasons and he’s not scoring at the pace he once did. A move to Toronto allows him to reset expectations; I also expect it’ll allow him to move back to the 2nd line center. I trust coach Mike Babcock to take proper advantage of his skills, and I expect he’ll flourish. But in San Jose, he was shifting into role player mode from elite mode, and fan expectations can be tough when that happens. So a change of scenery removes the pressure for him to try to live up to being five-years-ago Marleau.
The word on Thornton is he had 17 teams call to express interest in him, and he also originally wanted a three year deal, but was willing to take less to get Marleau signed. When that didn’t work, he opted for a one year deal (word is around $8 mil with a no-movement). I think that’s smart for Thornton because it’ll let him see how this team develops next season and decide if it’s on a downward slope (if so, he can bail) or still Cup competitive (f so, he can sign another deal with the Sharks). And I expect he and GM Doug Wilson had the conversation that if he does earn future contracts, the Sharks will pay him more than if they gave him the extra years now — and I’m sure Wilson would tell him if he does earn those years, he’ll pay it gladly (but my take: next year, either Thornton moves on, or he gets a two year deal).
It’s really nice to see Vlasic get his recognition with a long contract, and Jones has proven he’s the goalie we thought he was and earned his long term deal. So basically everyone wins, both team and player. This is the sort of setup I see with Wilson, neither taken advantage of (or giving in to emotion too much) and not taking advantage of the players, either. He’s a fair negotiator who rarely makes a major blunder, and my take on his 2017 free agency actions? Passes with flying colors.
There’s still work to do to fill out the team before the season opens, but the core is in place and with the exception of Thornton, in place for a while. How many more years does Joe have? That’s a good question, but I’d be willing to bet on at least three (Marleau I’m not as convinced, and I think two most likely. Remember Dan Boyle as a Ranger?)
I’m sad Marleau isn’t retiring as a shark, but sometimes business and the desire of the player dictate decisions. In this case, I think Marleau made the right decision to go, and the Sharks made the right decision to let him. I don’t think it’s the last we’ll see of Marleau in San Jose, I hope when he does retire the Sharks bring him back into the organization: he’s earned that.
But for now, hockey goes on, and the Sharks have done a nice job of getting ready for the start of next season, even if they lost a major part of their history to the Leafs. At least, for now.