It’s not easy to say goodbye — especially not to an NHL season. That’s what I was forced to do two weeks ago when my beloved San Jose Sharks choked so historically that even I was left without excuses.
But now the Sharks’ ownership is applying the proverbial Heimlich as it gears up for the future, and I’m discovering that saying goodbye to an NHL player or two may be even harder.
After the team made the expected announcement that it was dumping the aging Dan Boyle and the clumsy Martin Havlat, the sense is growing that its two star veterans, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, may soon be out the door as well. Both Marleau and Thornton are likely Hall of Famers once they retire, yet neither has won a Stanley Cup and both were among the Sharks’ most deflated players over the last three games of the team’s first-round collapse.
Turnover is deeply engrained in professional sports, of course, and I’m more than used to memorizing new faces and numbers each season. As a Giants fan, I thoroughly enjoyed my 2012 one-night stand with Melky Cabrera, testosterone-infused as it may have been.
But it’s something else entirely to potentially bid adieu to the two faces of the Sharks franchise, a pair of captains (Marleau from 2003-09, Thornton from 2010 to present) who have played 1,922 combined games in teal. As much as we San Jose fans want that long-awaited Cup for ourselves, our rallying cry over the last few playoffs has been to win one for two of the best hockey players in the world — two guys who simply deserved it.
And despite all of the measurable playoff disappointment — 10 straight appearances without making the finals, a first-round loss despite the league’s best regular-season record in 2008 and this year’s first-round defeat after taking a 3-0 series lead — that this franchise has experienced, it’s hard to believe that someone else may soon wear number 12 or 19 for the Sharks.
I can visualize every series-winning goal by Marleau or Thornton better than the material that I learned in geology class last week, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to let go of that. Imagine if Andrew Luck had wanted to come back for a fifth year, but Stanford hadn’t let him because he had failed to win his conference in three seasons as the starting quarterback. That’s how it feels.
It’s not the prospect of giving up the great memories of my two favorite hockey players; it’s the concept that the top of the Sharks organization is trying to rob me of Marleau and Thornton. (In this case, the top of the Sharks organization is majority owner Hasso Plattner, whose name is on the d.school at Stanford — the school that didn’t accept me into a class I wanted to take this quarter. Haven’t you done enough, Hasso?)
I would feel like I’m cheating on Patty and Jumbo the next time I shelled out money for tickets, and watching that game would feel like a family reunion without my favorite cousins: fun, but not the same. Yeah, hockey is a business, and yeah, tough decisions have to be made. Yet when it comes to nurturing a fan base that has grown to love Marleau and Thornton over the years, isn’t there a point at which the best on-ice decision isn’t the best business decision?
A good friend of mine — who’s just as attached to the Sharks’ stars as I am, but tends to be more pessimistic about the team in general — has told me to take solace in the fact that trading Marleau or Thornton could be a kick in the rear end to the rest of the locker room. It still feels like I’m being kicked somewhere else, and who knows whether my fellow Sharks fans can take the pain.
Jospeh Beyda has spent the past week doubled over in pain whenever he thinks about losing his favorite Sharks heroes. Email him your home remedies to deal with his discomfort at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.