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If the Sharks Want to Trade Thornton it Should Happen Soon

Last summer San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson claimed that he wanted to rebuild. He said that “we’re a tomorrow team,” implying that changes were coming down the pipeline, and swiftly. Through all of June, we wondered which domino would topple first. Would Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau begin the 2014-15 campaign with new organizations?

It seemed likely at the time, given the nature of Wilson’s comments.

A few weeks rolled off the calendar, and on July 1 the embattled general manager signed John Scott and prior to that inked Mike Brown to a two-year extension. If you believe that toughness alone wins hockey games then you loved these moves, but they didn’t send a clear message as far as the rebuild was concerned.

Was Wilson seriously considering moving high-end forwards like Thornton while signing noted thugs like Scott? Something didn’t add up. As the preseason started and the rumor mill died down, it became clear that the GM was simply trying to put a scare into his players by talking up impending trades. Thornton was stripped of the captaincy and the Sharks still don’t have a guy wearing the C, but there hasn’t really been any other forward motion since. Not the kind that Wilson implied after San Jose dropped a 3-0 series lead to the L.A. Kings, anyway.

Maybe cooler heads prevailed and the GM decided not to move two of his top-six forwards. Perhaps a deal was nixed behind closed doors and we don’t know about it. Any number of things might have happened over the last eight months or so, but one thing is clear: this is still the same ol’ Sharks team that can’t seem to get it together.

If Wilson’s idea was to fire his squad up by making threats, it hasn’t worked. The Sharks currently hold the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but just barely. They’ve gone 3-5-2 in their last 10, which is about as much urgency that one would expect out of this franchise.

The goal here isn’t to dump on Thornton or Marleau. Both players are phenomenal talents that haven’t seen the cards fall in their favor just yet. This is a question of asset management, and when the time is right to move to players that could rapidly depreciate over the next 365 days.

Thornton is fifth in the league in assists and is still more than capable of playing top-line minutes. He’s a top-20 point producer and tends to make the players around him at least a little better. Forwards typically start to taper off around the age of 30, yet Thornton is still cranking along at the age of 35. If Wilson is looking to receive the maximum return possible for the veteran pivot, he should attempt to do so this summer.

Maybe the Sharks make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. It’d be fun to watch them do it, given how the team is perceived to be one of the least-clutch in the league. Barring a run to at least the Western Conference Final, Thornton shouldn’t be in San Jose next year though. He has a full no-trade clause on his current deal and would have to sign off on any trade, but we’ve seen Marian Gaborik leave New York for Columbus.

Read: stranger things have happened.

Thornton has made it clear that he wants to remain a Shark, but that might not be in the best interest of the team’s future. Wilson wouldn’t be rebuilding if he traded the pivot. He’s be reloading, and that’s something that only a small number of teams in the NHL manage to do successfully. The return for Thornton would tower over that of Cody Franson, and the offensive defenseman cost the Nashville Predators a first-round pick and a solid prospect.

It’s speculation on our part, but it’s not inconceivable that Wilson could acquire a small trove of prospects and picks for Thornton. There’s a common line of thinking that says that the team getting the better player always wins the trade, but that ignores a number of factors. Again, this is a depreciating asset. If the Sharks proactively try to acquire some younger parts, it would be a temporary setback for future gains.

That’s a tough rope to walk, but it’s made easier when players like Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski would still be on the roster. Hertl has sparked the fourth line recently, but does Wilson really want the 21-year-old playing bottom-six minutes? He’s seeing 14:30 on average, but lately he has only been playing between eight and 12 minutes a night.

Hertl was drafted as a center. He hasn’t taken a lot of draws this year, but he’s been bouncing from wing to wing. If Thornton was traded, that would leave the Sharks with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and (presumably) Hertl as the top-three centers on the team. Not exactly slim pickings.

If Wilson is worried about his depth on the wing, then attempt to acquire those kinds of players in exchange for Thornton. Strange things can happen for a team when they open up roster sports and develop the ability to shakeup the lines a little bit.

Regardless of how the lines would pan out, if Wilson truly has the desire to move Thornton then he needs to do it soon. Not because he’s not a good player and not because he can’t win hockey big hockey games. It just seems like this franchise needs to change the pecking order a bit and give younger players the chance to lead.

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