Sharks Justified Choosing Thornton Over Marleau

It shouldn’t be a surprise the San Jose Sharks are overlooking free-agent Patrick Marleau heading into 2019-20. Nor should it be one that fellow-40-year-old Joe Thornton remains in their sights all the while.

Marleau Not Returning to Sharks

It’s perfectly understandable that fans would connect the Sharks with Marleau, considering the two sides spent 19 seasons together. However, general manager Doug Wilson shot down any possibility of Marleau returning, saying the Sharks would prefer to give more ice time to their young guns. It’s a decent strategy, as Marleau’s departure to the Toronto Maple Leafs coincided with the emergence of both Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier.

Tomas Hertl San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl – (Photo by Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images)

For example, Hertl scored as many goals in 2017-18 as he did points (22) the previous season, playing 18:06 on average instead of 17:13 when Marleau was still on the Sharks roster. This past season, he played 19:01 on average, scoring 74 points in 77 games. So, Marleau would hypothetically eat into the 26-year-old Hertl’s ice time, along with that of Meier who, at 23, is coming off a 66-point season. Also 23, Kevin Labanc scored 56 points.

Marleau vs. Thornton

Some may have a decent case to make that it’s a double standard between Marleau and Thornton, then. They’d technically be right, with reports indicating Thornton will re-sign with the Sharks. However, even if Thornton is actually a few months older than Marleau, it’s almost like comparing a bottle of finely aged wine to a box of a competing brand.

Hell, the boxed wine may have originally come in a very nice bottle itself. However, circumstances such as they are, it possibly got damaged in transit during an unforeseen two-year trip to Toronto… and, well, here we are. Now in a box, not only does it lose something in translation. It also no longer fits properly in your wine cellar, at least not as well as that other stuff that has stayed right where it belongs.

Patrick Marleau Maple Leafs
Ex-Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Granted, that’s in part due to mobility issues as Thornton has lost a step or two along the way. Knee problems will do that to a guy. Nevertheless, whereas Marleau decided to leave, despite having received an offer from the Sharks back then, Thornton stayed instead. He signed a one-year deal each of the last two seasons. Over that span, Thornton has also scored at a drastically higher point-per-game pace (0.73) than Marleau (0.51). In 2018-19, he even played nearly a minute less per game (with comparable power-play ice time).

Maybe Marleau, with whom a first-round pick was packaged by the Leafs just so they could lose his contract, is prepared to play depth minutes. Maybe Marleau, having immediately gotten bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes who valued the pick more, would have even been willing to take a sweetheart deal. It’s irrelevant, though. Thornton has already proven he’s willing to do both and able to more effectively. He’s also been around for the last two seasons, while Marleau is a relative “unknown” to the Sharks having been gone so long.

There’s Something About Thornton

There’s likely not even a hint of resentment aimed at Marleau on Wilson’s part here. It’s more so about getting Thornton re-signed than hating on Marleau for leaving. With less than $5 million in projected cap space, which is what Thornton just earned, Wilson must make every cent count. Meanwhile, Thornton over Marleau just makes sense in general.

Until he inks his next deal, Thornton’s future with the Sharks is obviously far from cemented. However, Wilson must recognize Thornton’s more of a nice-to-have than a necessity at this stage and, if the Sharks don’t necessarily need Thornton, bringing Marleau back, even as a substitute, would be hard to justify.

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton
San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton – (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

After all, few wine connoisseurs would drink wine out of a box in the absence of a bottle. They’d sooner settle for water. And Wilson is no ordinary connoisseur as one of the best GMs in the league. As thirsty as he might be for a championship, he’s been at it for 16 years. He knows what he’s doing, especially not to act out of either sentimentality or desperation.

So, it’s Thornton or no one at all in theory. Getting him back would be gravy, as he would add depth up front and serve as a rallying cry all at once, as Thornton’s still seeking his first Cup. If things go according to plan, look for his next one-year-deal to culminate in the bottle bursting open with champagne.