The news for the San Jose Sharks has gotten so thin that CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz wrote about them having the 20th pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft on Monday, June 16. For some it may have been a welcome change from the speculation that has surrounded a team due for changes, but for many fans all that does is elicit a yawn.
The topic of whether mainstays Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have dominated the national and local discussions for good reason. Not only is the potential of moving future Hall of Fame Sharks significant enough to spark debate and get attention, it is also thus more representative of what more fans want to discuss.
San Jose's spot in the draft was known weeks ago. Besides, just what might be done with the pick is as much conjecture as any discussions about what changes Doug Wilson might make to a team that finds new ways to fail, as NBC analyst Keith Jones put it.
After the Sharks became just the fifth North American major league sports team to lose a 3-0 series lead during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the general manager has made several references to major changes that have further driven speculation. The photo list includes postseason quotes from CSN Bay Area videos, to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News and his colleague David Pollack in which Wilson seems to indicate Thornton or Marleau must be moved, if not both.
It is clear that Wilson wants to make a change that is going to shake this team, a point Kurz makes in the second paragraph of the first question about getting equal return for the top two picks in the 1997 NHL draft in the CSN Mailbag Friday:
Trading either or both of them (Thornton or Marleau) would be about a culture change, with the ultimate goal of being an elite team in a few years.
It was interesting to note that in talking about next year's roster, Wilson mentioned Marleau by name but not Thornton. There are many reasons to believe the captain's omission may be telling.
For one, Thornton's game does not fit in with the new style San Jose wants to play. He likes to pull up and pass into traffic because it plays to the strengths of his game—contributing to what Wilson called "a pass-first team in a shoot-first league" in the spring of 2013. That approach does not work in the Stanley Cup playoffs, thus his per-game playoff scoring is 25 percent lower since joining the team than it is during the regular season.
By contrast, Marleau plays a north-south, shoot-first game. He has committed defensively (though still does not match Thornton on that end) and can play wing or the pivot. He has even been on the blue line on past power plays. He also probably had the best 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs of any core player, and his scoring holds at that time of the year despite playing only higher-level competition.
This is not to say that Marleau does not deserve blame for past failures. He gave up the breakaway that was the turning point in the second round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs, was terrible right through the next playoffs and may have had the worst series of any Shark in the 2012 first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues.
However, the reality is his insistence he will not waive his no-movement clause carries more weight. Marleau has been in San Jose since before his 18th birthday. He has already endured losing the captaincy and has little more at risk. He also would probably fetch less in return.
Thornton was chosen as captain not just because he was the best player on the team but because he is the biggest personality in San Jose's dressing room. That would make him losing the captaincy—something that must take place when he had the poorest series of any core player while being the appointed leader of a team to choke at historic levels—more of a distraction than it was for Marleau to lose that designation.
The very first prerequisite for Thornton staying with the team would have to be him being okay with wearing no letter on his sweater. If he cannot take that consequence for the team he led quitting on the series—and players, coaches and the front office have at the very least said the Sharks did not show up for the first period of the fifth game—then he should not be around even if the return for him is low.
Of course, another reason Thornton was named captain is that he is an accountable, team-first player. If he truly wants to stay as his brother and agent John claims, he will accept this. Wearing a letter is not a guarantee like his no-movement clause that he might thus be willing to waive to be traded to the right place.
Then San Jose can worry about return. The Columbus Blue Jackets received decent return for a more-damaged, higher-priced and less-accomplished (but younger) Rick Nash. Anything similar is enough return to keep this team a contender while it builds for the future, and certainly would shake up the dressing room.
The Sharks could then decide to use the cap space created by the trade to bolster the team this summer or really turn the team over to younger players. If Wilson does the latter, he can decide at the trade deadline whether to commit more fully to a rebuild or add the missing piece to make a run for the Stanley Cup.