All signs point to one last hurrah in San Jose with the existing group.
Former dynamic duo, 'Jumbo' Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will each be 34 years of age come training camp; both standouts from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Freewheeling defenseman Dan Boyle is 37 and has seen his production tail off from .76 PPG in his second season as a Shark- four years ago, to a 0.43 PPG output this past season. That was easily his lowest production rate since his pre-Tampa Bay days, more than a decade ago.
The triumvirate has served as the Sharks core glue pieces for a combined 28 seasons, with Marleau donning the teal sweater for the lion's share (15 of them). All three will be extremely hard pressed to reprise their roles on the Canadian Men's Olympic squad in Sochi, after winning gold together in Vancouver along with former teammate, Dany Heatley. Meanwhile, Logan Couture is on the brink of his prime years while Joe Pavelski is already an established young veteran whose skills are used on the defensive side of the rink as much as it is on offense.
Next offseason will see the franchise cornerstones Thornton, Marleau and Boyle all enter unrestricted free agency. A number of questions will need to be answered by Doug Wilson and co. regarding the direction of this franchise as July 1 2014 looms. Would the aging trio be willing to take a significant haircut to stay in San Jose? Would Joe Thornton consider a transformation of his game a la Steve Yzerman in the early 2000's; from leading scorer to a more complete player, allowing the young guns more room to flourish? Will the commitment be there to allow Marleau rarified air as a franchise lifer? Another multi-year deal will bring him mighty close to 20 years with the same club. Will Boyle, a smooth-skating puck mover with a skill set still in high demand despite his grey beard, chase the big bucks? His even older contemporary, Sergei Gonchar has dictated that he sure can, inking a two-year deal taking him past his 40th birthday.
Most of the questions remain to be seen. Although as for the concept of Jumbo Joe possibly transforming his game, he's already shown signs of strengthening other aspects as his offensive numbers continue to erode. His faceoff winning percentage has increased year to year for four straight seasons, going from an already solid .539% in 2009-10 to .585% this past season, a career high. Thornton has been above average on the draw for a handful of years now, however he's recently elevated himself to elite status at the craft. He easily led the Sharks at the dot this year and finished a very impressive fourth in the NHL. Jump back to three seasons ago a