The NHL offseason is about to heat up with the draft this weekend in Chicago and the start of free agency on July 1. Here's what we're hearing in regards to the Sharks, who could be at an organizational crossroads…
What's the latest with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau?
It's been quiet regarding to two franchise cornerstones that could officially become unrestricted free agents in eight days and are free to speak with other teams on Sunday. There has been dialogue, as Doug Wilson has said, but the general manager always prefers to keep contract negotiations private.
We do know that there have never been any gentleman's agreements between the Sharks and Thornton and Marleau for after the expansion draft. I continue to see this theory suggested by some – both media and fans alike – but it's simply not true, as we've reported here in the past.
At this point, Thornton and Marleau will surely wait until June 25 to see what kind of offers roll in from other clubs. They should learn pretty quickly what kind of interest is out there.
From the Sharks' perspective, the term of any potential deal is vital. If Thornton and Marleau still want at least three years – as we've reported here previously – that might not work for the Sharks, as their top offseason priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions.
Wilson could be taking a calculated risk, especially in Thornton's case, as the general manager no doubt knows that Thornton would prefer to stay in San Jose (it's less clear how much Marleau wants to return). If there aren't any other teams out there willing to sign a 38-year-old player coming off of a significant knee injury to a three-year deal, Thornton could settle for a one or two-year deal to stay with the Sharks. If another team is willing to go that long, Thornton could always give the Sharks a chance to match.
Which Sharks players could be on the move in a potential trade?
There have already been a few huge trades as of Friday morning, including the Blue Jackets snagging Artemi Panarin from Chicago for Brandon Saad, the Coyotes acquiring Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the Rangers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago.
Could the Sharks join the party? It's certainly possible, as the team could probably use another forward or two than can put the puck in the net.
I could see the Sharks dangling Chris Tierney, for reasons that I laid out last week on my Facebook page when I thought that the club might protect a fourth defenseman and leave Tierney unprotected. In short, Ryan Carpenter's return should make Tierney more expendable; coach Pete DeBoer has been pretty critical of Tierney in the past; and Tierney, a pending restricted free agent, remains unsigned.
Further, you have to wonder if Tierney might be better off on another team for his own growth. If the Sharks re-sign Thornton, Tierney will be firmly entrenched as the fourth line center behind Thornton, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Could his camp be pushing for a trade, prompting the Sharks to make sure they kept Carpenter around?
As for other potential trade bait, the Sharks have some organizational depth at defense right now, even after they shipped Mirco Mueller to the Devils. Perhaps they try and move one of their established defenseman for the right price, if they think any of the youngsters are ready to make the leap to the NHL, or maybe they could move one of the blue line prospects for an established veteran scorer.
It's worth noting, too, that one source texted me last week, "I think there is more coming from Doug and crew."
Is Micheal Haley going to return?
The only other UFA from the Sharks' NHL roster last season, other than Thornton and Marleau, is Haley.
There continues to be mutual interest between the two sides. Pete DeBoer likes Haley, he's a respected guy in the dressing room, and his teammates appreciate the role he plays. That doesn't mean a deal will get done, as the Sharks have more pressing matters to navigate through first, but Haley could be back in the fall.
The Sharks have some key restricted free agents, too. What's going on with those guys?
The deadline to qualify restricted free agents is Sunday. Expect the Sharks to qualify Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow.
The remaining RFAs are Nikita Jevpalovs, Mantas Armalis and Patrick McNally. All three could be allowed to walk, and therefore become unrestricted.