San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer spoke with the media today about their series loss against the Edmonton Oilers, and revealed that Joe Thornton had been playing with a torn MCL and ACL. He also says that Tomas Hertl had been playing with a broken foot, while Patrick Marleau had a broken finger. It likely means there is surgery in the near future for Thornton, which could drastically affect his free agency.
As he heads into the summer, Thornton is one of the top free agents on the market in what is a light year up front. Along with Alexander Radulov and T.J. Oshie, Thornton is one of the only proven top-six contributors available even as he approached 38 years old. His 50 points this season were a considerable step backwards, but he is just a year removed from an 82 point season in 2015-16. If his knee injury is further debilitating, he could be looking at a much lower cap-hit for someone to take a chance on him.
Though the Sharks would like to retain both Thornton and Marleau, it may be time to move on from the legends and try to build around Hertl and some of the other young players they have. Melker Karlsson, Marcus Sorensen, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney are all restricted free agents this summer and deserve raises, while the team already has quite a bit of money tied up in their over-30 crowd, including the new $64MM extension for Brent Burns that kicks in next year.
Should Thornton make a full recovery, several teams may bite the bullet on the risks that his age and health pose, and offer a two-year deal to give him one last chance at the Stanley Cup. If it was his last stint in San Jose, skating with a “floating” knee seems like a loyal way to pay off a fan base that has cheered him for years, even if it did result in a first round exit.