The smoke suggests that Joe Thornton may be heading out of San Jose this summer. The Sharks are in the midst of quasi rebuild focusing on their younger core of Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Tomas Hertl. Even though Thornton and Patrick Marleau signed extremely team friendly contract extensions earlier in the season, the impending shakeup seems to indicate that one or both players may be moving on.
With the Rangers Stanley Cup Final loss, I expect two narratives to dominate the topic of conversation regarding the Rangers off-season needs; 1) the Rangers will need to get “bigger” and 2) there will be persistent rumors of signing or trading for a top center to “replace” Brad Richards.
The Rangers didn’t lose to the Kings because they were smaller (their team average height is an inch less than LA), they lost because they couldn’t convert on the power play, were unable to overcome poor performances from Richards and Dan Girardi, and their coaching staff made zero tactical adjustments as the series progressed. But the Kings are big and since they won the Cup, the Rangers must be too small to play with the “big boys”, right?
In the humble opinion of this basement dwelling blogger, it is insane to think that the Rangers are going to replace Brad Richards with a top line center. After all, Richards was a third line center on this year’s team. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard proved their worth as top six centers. Logic would dictate that the Rangers pursue a third line center to replace the loss of a third line center. But by the same token, the Rangers are the Rangers, they’re in on most of the big names every summer. It just so happens that this summer all of the big names are centers; Thornton, Marleau, Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler, and Paul Statsny.
The one which potentially makes the most sense is Thornton. Every team should want Joe Thornton on their team. But how could the Rangers acquire him? Their prospect pool is thin and they don’t have a first round pick in either of the next two drafts. Also, where is the budget for this? The Rangers need the savings from Richards’ contract to presumably give raises to Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, and Stepan. It’s true that Thornton and Rick Nash are buddies. They would make a hell of a tandem in New York. Especially since Thornton is still performing at a very high level. Thornton does hold all the cards if the Sharks do indeed trade him. Will he push his way to New York? Maybe. But the speculation grossly outweighs the known fact set at the moment.
Until Thornton’s future is secure this summer, I would expect the Rangers to always be connected to him in the rumor mill. It makes sense from high level observation, which is generally how mainstream media types operate, but can it actually happen? I have my doubts.