DETROIT -- San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is not interested in paying a high price for a pending unrestricted free agent before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 after losing center Joe Thornton to a knee injury.
But he would like to add one or two top-end forwards before the trade deadline or in the offseason. He lost forward Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency July 1.
"We're not about to give up any of our key young players," Wilson said Wednesday, when the Sharks lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. "We're not looking to move our first-round picks for rentals. We've always looked at, if there's a player that fits for now and the future, we'll explore that."
Wilson said that's how the Sharks acquired Thornton from the Boston Bruins on Nov. 30, 2005; defenseman Brent Burns from the Minnesota Wild on June 24, 2011; and goaltender Martin Jones from the Bruins on June 30, 2015.
"We think the young players are really trending up," Wilson said. "We have a nice blend [of young players and veterans]. We think our goaltending is in a good place. We think our defense is set for many years.
"Would we like to add another top-end forward in the next while? Or a couple of them? Yeah. And there's different ways to do that. One is through the draft. One is through free agency. We have a lot of [salary-]cap space this upcoming year, which was part of our plan. Then there's obviously the trade potential. We explore every way to add to our team."
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It all fits into what Wilson calls the "natural evolution" of the Sharks.
They moved their American Hockey League team from Worcester, Massachusetts, to San Jose in 2015-16, allowing them to mentor and evaluate their prospects better.
"We knew that we needed to have younger players that played the game the current way the game is played, with offense, puck possession, speed and all that," Wilson said. "So you know that the inevitable day is coming that you need those players to contribute more. I think we've been very cognizant the last five or six years to get the right type of players that one could complement the team that we had, but again how we want to play.
"A lot of our younger players are not young. They've played in the [Stanley Cup Playoffs]. They've played in the Stanley Cup Final [against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016]. They've played a lot of hockey surrounded by really good people. And I think there comes a point that the younger players have to step up and take ownership of more of the team."
Marleau, 38, is the leading scorer in Sharks history with 1,082 points (508 goals, 574 assists). He had 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) last season.
The Sharks have filled that void internally. Forwards Joonas Donskoi, 25; Tomas Hertl, 24; Chris Tierney, 23; and Timo Meier, 21, combined for 16 goals through 50 games last season. They have combined for 47 through 50 games this season.
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"There's maybe a little more ice, a little more opportunity, there, but they've also earned that opportunity," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We haven't handed it to them. … They've all taken steps -- and some of them more steps than others -- but definitely have kept us competitive."
But now the Sharks are without Thornton, 38, the second-leading scorer in franchise history with 973 points (228 goals, 745 assists). He had 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) this season before having surgery on his right medical collateral ligament Jan. 25. Wilson has said he will miss "several weeks."
Do the Sharks have enough to fill that void internally too?
"We have to, right?" DeBoer said with a laugh. "We don't have any option."
Unless and until Wilson makes a move. The Sharks are 0-2-1 without Thornton, and the playoff race is tight. San Jose is second in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the third-place Los Angeles Kings and the just-out-of-a-wild-card-spot Anaheim Ducks.
"He's a really tough one to replace," Wilson said of Thornton. "His presence. His love for the game. He makes everybody around him better. But every team goes through injuries. We had to go through patches of losing Logan Couture several times, and he's a really important player for us. Every team in the League is [like], 'Who can step in and not pick up the slack but bring a little bit more?' We think we do it by committee.
"Joe has inspired a lot of people, and I think now it's time for some of those guys he's inspired to step up like he has or he would. We've got an extremely close group that cares about each other, and I think that's what our approach is."