It was announced this morning that star forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both signed three-year contract extensions with the San Jose Sharks. Thornton’s new deal will carry an average annual cap hit of $6.75 million, while Marleau’s hit comes in at $6.66 million.
It’s safe to say that both players took a hometown discount to stay in San Jose, where they’ve enjoyed tremendous success. The Sharks haven’t missed the playoffs since acquiring Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins in 2005, and Marleau has been a key cog in the club’s core since he broke into the league in 1997.
Despite their frequent postseason appearances and numerous division titles, the Sharks have yet to win a Stanley Cup. Thornton and Marleau have received most of the blame for this. Not only do they make up two-thirds of the team’s leadership group (defenseman Dan Boyle wears the other letter), they are also San Jose’s best players, and are expected to show up when it matters most.
The critics out there, of which there are many, have gone so far as to say that the Sharks will never win a Cup with Thornton as their captain. Former NHL forward Jeremy Roenick, who spent his last two seasons in the league with San Jose, publicly blasted Marleau, calling him “gutless” on-air during the 2011 playoffs.
So did general manager Doug Wilson make a grave mistake by extending the veteran stars for three more years? Will the Sharks continue to falter in the playoffs? Or does locking up Thornton and Marleau for a few more seasons increase the team’s chances to remain competitive moving forward?
The answers to those questions will vary from person to person. If you asked me, I’d tell you that the critics are dead wrong.
Thornton, who has been titled as a playoff “choker” for most of his career, has 97 points in 125 playoff games. When the Sharks made back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011, Thornton had 29 points over the course of 33 postseason contests. He achieved those numbers while facing the opposition’s top defensive players and logging heavy minutes on the penalty kill.
Meanwhile, Marleau is ranked second in the league in playoff goals among all active players, behind only 41-year-old legend Jaromir Jagr. Marleau has 57 tallies in 140 career postseason games, putting his playoff goals-per-game clip at just over .400. He also faces top competition and is used frequently on the penalty kill.
It’s easy to blame a team’s best players for a perceived lack of postseason success, but the truth is that the Sharks have been one of the league’s best and most consistent teams over the last 10 years. Their playoff woes have stemmed primarily from inconsistent goaltending and a lack of scoring depth.
These are two issues that might not plague them moving forward. Antti Niemi and rookie Alex Stalock are both providing stellar netminding this season, and Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels and (when healthy) Tomas Hertl highlight a strong group of forwards capable of providing secondary scoring.
So what does the extension of Thornton and Marleau’s contracts mean for the Sharks? It means that this club has a few additional years added to its Stanley Cup window. It means that San Jose will remain home to two of the league’s premiere forwards. It means that the franchise’s quest for its first ever championship won’t be put on hold.