Yes. Joe Thornton will retire as a San Jose Shark.
Let’s end all the discussion and debate know, lest this turn into a situation similar to what the Anaheim Ducks faced last season. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were both headed for free agency, and fans of every other team in the NHL were day dreaming about seeing one of those two in their favorite team’s sweater.
It seemed like every city that the pair went to featured an angle along those lines. “Hey Corey, could you ever see yourself in Toronto?” or “Hey Ryan, do you think it’s possible that you’d ever want to play in Calgary?” and so on. How distracting. It’s a good thing that journalists can’t be fined for tampering, but I digress.
The future isn’t “unclear” for Thornton, as so many outlets have suggested. San Jose was aggressive in re-upping Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, which clearly means that Jumbo’s days as a Shark are numbered, right?
Not so fast.
For one, a dearth of top-end centers is never, ever a bad thing. Stanley Cup contenders often have a No. 3 center that would be a No. 2 guy on at least half the teams in the NHL. Think about who played down the middle for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they were making runs at the Cup. The Detroit Red Wings have based their success for years on having incredible center depth.
The league isn’t operated like you run your teams on NHL 14. Roles aren’t as clearly defined. Lines are movable objects, and the more angles a coach can throw at the opposition during a playoff run, the better. That’s why the transformation of Brent Burns was so valuable. That’s why having a winger like Tomas Hertl (who is listed as a center) that can take faceoffs is not a bad thing.
So depth won’t force Thornton out of town.
Money isn’t likely to be an issue either. According to Capgeek.com, his cap hit over the last three seasons has been $7 million. All told, the Sharks will have just over $19 million in cap space after this season ends. That’s partly because Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are also coming off the ledger along with Thornton, but to say that the space isn’t there is shortsighted.
The cap will rise once again in 2014-15, and San Jose could have as much as $20 million to bring back any combination of these important players. Would Thornton, Marleau and Boyle all take small discounts to keep the band together? I think that they would, but I’m not a fortune teller either. If Daniel Alfredsson was willing to leave the Ottawa Senators over money, anything is possible.
Still, $6 million a year for a player who isn’t a threat to hit 100 points like he used to be seems like a good deal for both sides. Thornton gets to continue his quest for a Cup in San Jose, and the Sharks don’t have to go shopping for a new No. 1 center. Those don’t grow on trees and are rarely readily available.
The depth down the middle might look massive right now, but line that group up without the Captain there and suddenly it’s less impressive.
Therein lies the third issue with the idea of Thornton being done in San Jose. The team could let him go to save salary, but who would replace him? There’s no doubt that Couture could be a No. 1 center in this league, but isn’t that what makes the Sharks so hard to match-up with in the first place? You can stop one or the other, but you can’t put the clamps on both.
Depth won’t push No. 19 out of San Jose. Nor will money or a replacement.
Most of all, letting Thornton walk just wouldn’t make sense at this juncture. The Sharks have been on the cusp of a championship since they brought the big man to town. That hasn’t changed, and with players like Hertl stepping up, there’s still plenty to like about this franchise moving forward.
If money isn’t a problem and the team isn’t on the decline, what would motivate Thornton to leave?
And that’s why the man will retire as a Shark.