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LAS VEGAS — It sounds like if the San Jose Sharks rebuild after their latest playoff failure, they will do it with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts. Both plan to stay.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” said Marleau at the NHL Awards on Monday. “It’s going to suck having to go through all the 82 games to get back into the playoffs to get to that point to actually do something about it.”
Asked if he and Thornton expected to be back, Marleau said: “Yeah. As of right now, yeah.”
General manager Doug Wilson has used the word “rebuild” since the Sharks became the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a best-of-7 series, falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
Wilson has explained the “rebuild” to Thornton and Marleau, as well as defenseman Brad Stuart and goaltender Antti Niemi. The Sharks will not trade picks, prospects or younger players for veterans; will not sign free agents who would leapfrog younger players; and will turn over leading roles to younger players. In short, they are no longer in win-now mode. They want to emphasize growth. Wilson has asked openly whether some veterans would want to be around for that.
It is a delicate situation. Just five months ago, Wilson signed Thornton and Marleau to three-year extensions. He gave them the no-movement clauses. He gave them a lot of money – Thornton’s average salary will be $6.75 million, Marleau’s $6.67 million – but both players accepted at least a little less than they could have made as unrestricted free agents July 1.
Wilson would say that he isn’t trying to force out Thornton and Marleau, that he is only trying to be up front and honest with them. He is being respectful of the deals he made by not asking them to waive the no-movement clauses or even to give him lists of teams to which they would accept a trade.
Under what circumstances would Marleau consider waiving his no-movement clause?
“Even if …” Marleau said, his voice trailing off. “We haven’t even really talked about that. I haven’t really thought about it.”
So, to be clear, Marleau won’t volunteer?
“I want to play in San Jose,” Marleau said. “I want to win there.”
Thornton feels the same. That’s why they signed those extensions in the first place.
Though Thornton and Marleau are both about to turn 35, they are elite players. Thornton finished second in assists in the regular season with 65, three behind the leader – Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who is expected to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player Tuesday night. Both finished in the top 16 in scoring. Marleau is a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded for sportsmanship and a high standard of playing ability.
Blowing that 3-0 series lead to the Kings was crushing, and the Sharks have never made the Stanley Cup Final despite contending for years. But the Kings went on to win the Cup, and the Sharks remain good enough to contend.
“Something has to change,” Marleau said. “I think that’s what [the executives and coaches are] doing right now. They’re looking at every little thing to try to find the right thing. It’s going to be hard to figure out what exact thing it was that set it off. I mean, obviously we lose the way we did, but we lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, too.”
The Sharks lost top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to injury and had goaltending issues. But there were other problems. Game 5 was particularly troubling. The Sharks had a chance to close out the series at home, came out flat and lost, 3-0.
In Marleau’s mind, the Kings adjusted after the Sharks outscored them 17-8 in Games 1 through 3. The Sharks didn’t respond in kind. They kept playing a wide-open style. They tried to do too much, managed the puck poorly, turned over the puck, strayed out of position and left themselves vulnerable to attack.
“I think maybe mentally we thought, ‘Oh, we can keep scoring all these goals,’ ” Marleau said. “But it wasn’t so much what we were doing. It was kind of what they weren’t doing. They tightened everything up, and we were still trying to make that happen. That’s one little part of it.”
Wilson told NHL Network that a group of Sharks told him the players were “co-workers and not teammates.” He pointed to how the Kings stuck together to win three seven-game series.
“I think he’s thinking that you can get more out of each other on the ice if you’re a tight-knit group,” Marleau said. “I think that’s what he’s trying to get at.”
Is that missing?
“Well, that’s something they’re looking at,” Marleau said. “I think for the most part that comes as young guys and older guys, just getting together away from the rink, but even going through the struggles. Obviously this is a huge struggle that we’re going through right now. I think that’s going to bring us together as well.”
Could Marleau sense a rift between younger guys and older guys?
“No,” Marleau said. “That’s the thing. None of this stuff usually comes out of the woodwork until something like this happens. Everybody thinks it’s fine, and everybody thinks it’s good. And then something like this happens, and you’re like, ‘Well, maybe it’s not as good as we thought it was.’
“I don’t see it as a big thing. Obviously you want that. You want to have a close-knit team. I think there’s certain things we can do as an organization to make that happen, whether it be going out, having a getaway together, a team-bonding thing, things like that.”
Wilson is making changes. He has already traded the rights to soon-to-be 38-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle, a pending unrestricted free agent. He will part with 35-year-old defenseman Scott Hannan via free agency and 33-year-old winger Martin Havlat via trade or buyout. Brent Burns will move from wing back to defense next season.
A looming question is the captaincy. Will coach Todd McLellan strip the ‘C’ from Thornton and give it to Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski? How would that affect Thornton?
“I think as far as the young guys, you want everybody to be in it together,” Marleau said. “I think to have them have more ownership of the team, that’s great. I think everybody needs to be in it as a team.”
Does Marleau fear an overreaction?
“I don’t know,” Marleaus said. “I look at it as what I have to do as a player, what we have to do. Obviously it’s a big kick in the gut. You have to get refocused, come back even that much more motivated in the off-season training and for next year, and I think we’re going to learn a lot about a lot of players coming back this next year after losing the way we did.”
Marleau said he has not thought about waiving his no-movement clause and leaving San Jose, but he has thought about this: The third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a best-of-7 series was the Boston Bruins. They did it in 2010.
“They went through this and came back and won the Cup the next year,” Marleau said. “So like I said, we’re going to learn a lot about a lot of people.”
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