With Next Contract, Sharks Must Keep Joe Thornton From Feeling Too Happy

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 18: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks moves the puck while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 18, 2010 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Joe Thornton and the Sharks are already starting to talk contract extension.

Thornton’s current contract ends at the end of the upcoming season.

Here’s the thing about Thornton and the Sharks: The Sharks want to keep him around and Thornton wants to stay in San Jose. He’s comfortable in San Jose, where he and his family have put down roots.

There’s very little doubt Thornton and the Sharks will be able to work out an extension without much drama.

But maybe that’s the problem.

Thornton is a hugely talented player, but also a lazy one. He tends to disappear in pressure-packed situations, unless he’s being called out.

Look at last season’s playoffs: Three assists in a first round win over Colorado, with just about everyone screaming the Sharks were about to choke in the post-season yet again. Then, in a huge series against Detroit, Thornton came alive with three goals and five assists in five games. Then, having established his ability to succeed in the post-season, Thornton once again disappeared, with just one assist in the final series, where the Sharks were swept by Chicago.

But even looking at Thornton’s career as a whole, you see a similar trend. Back in Boston, where Thornton felt safe, his numbers were good: He averaged just under 57 points a season in seven seasons, plus part of an eighth. But once he was shockingly and suddenly traded to San Jose, a tremendous indignity, Thornton’s numbers improved. Suddenly he was averaging over 95 points per season.

The difference? Obviously, Thornton’s play improved as it most likely would have had he stayed in Boston. But Thornton also stepped up his game in an effort to show Boston they were wrong to trade him. Thornton was angry and upset and it elevated his game.

This is the challenge the Sharks must navigate. Thornton plays better when he’s not comfortable. Thornton is at his best when he’s been pushed to the brink and feels he has something to prove. Because once he’s comfortable, once he’s not upset, he can be susceptible to disappearing on the ice.

So while it’s great both parties want Thornton to stay a Shark, the team needs to be careful about making Thornton too happy. A long-term contract could saddle the Sharks with an underperforming, high-priced player that could handcuff the team for years.

The Sharks need to figure a way to keep Thornton happy, but not too happy. Maybe it’s in the form of a shorter-term contract. Maybe it’s in the form on an incentive-laden contract.

But if the Sharks want to get the best out of a very talented player, they need to keep him from feeling too content. Thornton is at his best when he’s uncomfortable, so the Sharks need to make sure his next contract doesn’t make all of his dreams come true.