Heading into the 2013-2014 regular season the San Jose Sharks will be focused on trying to avenge their playoff failures over the last nine seasons and finally win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But while there is still an entire season ahead to play, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and the rest of the front office will be planning for future seasons everyday. This planning for the future may draw Wilson to the conclusion that Joe Thornton should be on his way out of town, with multiple youngsters being lined up to take his place.
Joe Thornton Is Going Downhill
The argument that the end of Thornton’s reign in San Jose should come to an end after the 2013-2014 comes down to his declining performance and expensive price tag.
During the 2012-2013 season Thornton had his worst season since the 1999-2000 season, even after he seemingly attempted to stay in game shape by playing with Swiss team HC Davos during the lockout. For the entirety of the regular season Thornton posted the lowest shooting percentage of his 15 year career, lowest point per game total since the 1999-2000 season, and the lowest average time on ice since the 1998-1999 season. Not only were each of these totals down, but they were down significantly and for the first time in Thornton’s career in San Jose displayed that the beginning of the end may have begun.
When this declining performance is multiplied with the fact that Thornton is entering a contract year during the 2013-2014 season and is only likely to go downhill at the age of 34 it appears unlikely these totals will be getting any better in the future. It is unlikely that he will want to see much of a decline in salary, if any, from the $7 million minimum he has received over the last six years, making an extension an unwise business investment for the Sharks front office.
Youngsters Waiting In The Wings
The other factor going against Thornton is that the Sharks have a multitude of young players lining up to take his spot and provide the next generation of players in San Jose. In particular youngsters Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney look likely to become top six forwards within the next couple seasons, making expensive and aging players such as Thornton even more unattractive to management.
Hertl has been at training camp with the Sharks and looks likely to at least earn a place on the team’s third line alongside Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels during the 2013-2014 season. Hertl comes with big expectations after posting 30 points in 43 games for HC Slavia Praha of the Czech Extraliga during the 2012-2013 season and leading the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships in 2012 with five points in six games, and generally looking like a NHL level playmaker in the process. He brings a physical tinge to his game that could develop largely with the bigger bodies of the NHL and by the 2013-2014 season will likely be ready to at least be a second line winger.
Meanwhile Chris Tierney looks like he will be the second line center of the future, settling in behind Logan Couture very nicely. Tierney was a second round pick by the Sharks in 2012, and since then has been playing with the London Knights of the OHL. During the 2012-2013 season he posted 57 points in 68 games and displayed a dedication to playing hard on both ends of the ice that Thornton has sometimes shied away from. While he may not be quite ready to be a second line center by the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, he brings a strong argument as to why signing Thornton to another long and expensive contract could be detrimental to the team’s long term future.
Both Hertl and Tierney provide a strong argument as to why signing the aging Joe Thornton to another expensive contract going into the 2013-2014 season would be a bad investment and could stall the Sharks future success. While it is never fun to see the business aspects of the game come in and take a player out of a city he has called home for so long, the facts are that holding onto Thornton past the 2012-2013 season for the sake tradition and loyalty would not be good for the fans or the organization.