Over the past 13 years, the San Jose Sharks have been one of the most model franchises in the NHL. In 2014-15, they missed the playoffs for the first time in those 13 seasons after inconsistent play found them on the outside looking in.
The Sharks and winningest coach in franchise history, Todd McLellan, announced that they would mutually part ways, leaving San Jose to search for a new bench boss ahead of the 2015-16 season.
The goal of every management staff in the game is an obvious one, to win the Stanley Cup. After years of tremendous regular season success, San Jose has failed to bring the Cup home. Disappointment has been encompassing the team for years as early playoff exits and longer golfing seasons have been the tradition.
McLellan may not be the only shark swimming out of San Jose as rumors of star forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau being on the move have made their rounds for the past year.
A Look at Joe Thornton
Thornton, 35, was acquired from the Boston Bruins in 2005 where criticism for not raising his play during the playoffs appeared to be the main factor. While San Jose’s playoff woes are the reason for no Cup, Thornton does have 82 points (18 G, 64 A) in 97 games for the Sharks. Those .84 points-per-game are far better numbers than .51 points-per-game rate he had in Boston (35 GP, 6 G, 12 A).
However, a career -27 rating in the playoffs may be what holds his play back in the quest for the Cup.
With the lockout-shortened season aside, Thornton has scored 70+ points in eight of his nine seasons with the Sharks and has been productive year after year with swapped linemates (Jonathan Cheechoo, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, etc.).
Joe Thornton also has great chemistry with his sticking linemate Joe Pavelski since being put together during the 2013-14 season. Pavelski is an outstanding two-way player and is a three-time 30+ goal scorer, including his career high 41 goal season in 2013-14.
Seeing as Joe Pavelski should certainly be in the Sharks long-term plans, moving Thornton may be a mistake so long as he’s productive and plays next to Pavelski.
Then there’s the possibility of Sharks GM Doug Wilson moving Thornton due to some beef with upper management. McLellan stripped the ‘C’ off of Thornton’s chest this summer then Wilson and Thornton shared some heat through the media.
A Look at Patrick Marleau
Marleau, also 35, has stuck around for the ups and downs in the only NHL city he has ever played for. He even held strong with an 83-point season when he was relieved of the captaincy in 2009, after wearing the ‘C’ for more than five years.
The ‘C’ has been passed around many times in recent San Jose history, but that’s a different story altogether.
Due to a dip in production this year (82 GP, 19 G, 57 pts.), Marleau could be on
his way out. Maybe this isn’t the decline of Marleau’s career but rather just a down year like his 64 points in 2011-12. Excluding the lockout-shortened season again, Marleau hasn’t scored this few of goals since 2007-08 (19 G, 48 pts.).
With 233 SOG this year, Marleau was shooting at roughly the same pace as all 82-game seasons in his last six years.
The Odd-Man-Out Possibility
Each of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could fetch a significant return for a “rebuilding” San Jose. While Thornton would almost certainly draw more interest due to his productivity, either one of them could become a potential odd-man-out.
If GM Doug Wilson does choose to move one of his aging stars, Thornton may be the odd-man-out pending Wilson’s loyalty toward Marleau (the franchise’s all-time point leader), who has spent his entire career in a Sharks jersey.
While each of the two players respective contracts contain a full no-movement clause, Marleau may be the one to go if Thornton refuses to waive his for a trade.
Thornton said he would waive his no-movement clause once before if the fans and his teammates no longer wanted him in San Jose.
The keyword is scapegoat. Is McLellan the scapegoat and San Jose refrains from any hasty trades? Or are Joe Thornton and/or Marleau the scapegoat and Wilson makes a move to shake up his team and its leadership roles?