Just because the Sharks season ended on April 22 doesn't mean the action ever stopped. With support from ownership, the front office navigated through an intriguing free-agent period in an effort to sustain the franchise's annual Stanley Cup contention. And while San Jose's veterans rest up, reboot and recharge for the fall, the summer ice had no time to melt with another development camp in the books.
The Nov. 22 signing of Brent Burns to an eight-year extension through the 2024-25 season was the first box that needed to be checked off as general manager Doug Wilson began the delicate balancing act of fitting everything the team needs under the NHL's salary cap.
Burns, 32, provided an early reward for the financial and long-term commitment by becoming the franchise's first Norris Trophy winner as the league's best defenseman. Burns followed a career year as a Norris finalist in 2015-16 with 27 goals and 75 points with 29 goals and 76 points this past season in addition to improving his plus-minus from minus-5 to plus-19.
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"You have to be proactive in this business, and getting Burnzie signed was one of the most important things we could do," Wilson said. "I can only imagine what we would be dealing with if we had to negotiate with Burnzie on the free-agent market."
With the man who has managed a combined 673 shots on goal over two seasons in the fold, Wilson went to work on locking up two more key, prime-age contributors to long-term extensions signed on July 1's opening day of free agency - defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goaltender Martin Jones.
Regarded as one of the best blue liners in the world by NHL execs, Team Canada and the Sharks, Vlasic agreed to an eight-year extension (through 2025-26) while Jones said yes to six years (through 2023-24).
Vlasic, 30, has already appeared in 812 games over 11 seasons with the Sharks. A plus player nine straight campaigns, and 10 times in all, Vlasic is a stalwart on the team's blue line drawing opponent top-line assignments on a nightly basis. In addition, Vlasic has 53 goals and 254 career points.
"In the negotiation process he said 'I want to be here'," Wilson said. "When players step up like that it means the world to us."
Jones, 27, has developed into the No. 1 netminder the Sharks envisioned when they dealt a first-round draft pick and a prospect to Boston a week after the Bruins acquired his services from San Jose's rivals in Los Angeles. A workhorse with 65 games started in each of his first two seasons with the Sharks, Jones sports a 2.33 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in that time.
"We worked very hard to get him, and he was just coming into his prime when we acquired him," Wilson said. "We knew the type of person he was. Players want to play for him. They believe in him so there's a connection there."
Now with a framework understanding of the team's payroll, and knowing what was and was not possible, attention shifted to two iconic franchise cornerstones - Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau - a pair of future Hall of Fame vets who had reached unrestricted free-agent status.
Thornton played the playoffs with torn ACL and MCL ligaments, an injury sustained late in the regular season. That didn't stop as many as 17 teams for inquiring about his services shortly after Jumbo Joe underwent surgery to repair his left knee. But the 38-year-old, who has spent 914 games in a Sharks jersey after being acquired from Boston midway through 2005-06, never wavered in his desire to stay put. Thornton agreed to a one-year deal on July 2.
"He changed this franchise when we acquired him," Wilson told the web site. "It was contagious what he brought to this organization. What he did last year in the playoffs, playing basically on one leg, and stepping up contractually … he clarified 'I want to be here'."
The Sharks had similar intentions for Marleau, the player they selected second overall in 1997 and watched play for 19 seasons in the South Bay to set nearly every club record in scoring. There were hopes of making him a lifetime Shark, but like Thornton, there were other suitors. In the end, Marleau opted for Toronto's three-year offer to play in his home country.
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"In this business you have options, and you have choices," said Wilson. "He was offered a contract in an organization that was really looking for that type of veteran mentorship and they got an amazing man in Patrick, so we wish him the best. Our owner had talked to Patrick and shared through me to him that we would love for him to retire as a Shark. That was part of the offer in the negotiations, but it wasn't about money. Patrick made a decision and we fully respect it and wish him nothing but the best and I'm glad he's in the East."
The departures of Marleau and defenseman David Schlemko - first to expansion Vegas before the Golden Knights flipped him to Montreal - provide immediate roster opportunities in addition to internal competition in training camp and the preseason for new faces to emerge.
Young forwards Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Carpenter and Danny O'Regan plus defensemen Tim Heed, Joakim Ryan and Julius Bergman - in addition to others - figure to parlay their recent experience with the San Jose Barracuda into a shot at sticking with the big club.
The 'Cuda won the Pacific Division, produced the second best percentage of points (.699) and went to the third round of the Calder Cup playoffs all with one of the youngest rosters in the AHL during just their second season after relocating to San Jose.
"We want to be loyal to providing opportunities to guys who have paid their dues," Wilson told the site. "Their will be 5-6 rookies potentially on this team next year if they earn a spot and deserve it."
And while the summer has been eventful, there's nothing to suggest Wilson won't keep looking to improve his team. The Sharks have not been shy to use the trade market. They now have a tad more than $10 million of cushion, and owner Hasso Plattner has been generous with the budget.
"We have lots of cap space now," Wilson said. "You never know what the timeline is to improve your hockey team."