Though the San Jose Sharks are still playing as one of the top five teams in the NHL, there is a transition slowly taking place on the roster. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 26, was taken by Team Canada instead of Dan Boyle, 37. Patrick Marleau was a bigger surprise inclusion on that Olympic team than Logan Couture was a surprise omission, though the latter's hand injury may have played a role.
For a team with a supposedly closing Cup window, the Sharks get a boatload of contributions from younger players. Six of their top eight scorers are under the age of 30 and four of those are younger than 26. For a long time this team has been led by Joe Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, but a new core is slowly emerging. Couture, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Vlasic - these are the "next ones" in San Jose.
But to keep trying to push through the glass ceiling that has snared the great potential the Sharks have had for a decade or more, they still need the Old Guard. They still need Thornton's massive presence and playmaking down the middle. They still need Marleau's goal scoring and two-way play. They still need Boyle's puck-moving.
And Friday they locked down two of those assets for the next three years.
As reported by Pierre LeBrun, Thornton and Marleau have inked three-year extensions with San Jose. Thornton's cap hit will come in at $6.75 million and Marleau's at $6.6 million, both of which are lower than they currently stand. This for a top five point-getter and a consistent 30-goal scorer - two standards that should continue to be met throughout the life of these new contracts.
For two players who could have made a killing on a quickly-weakening 2014 unrestricted free agent market, these deals say a lot about San Jose as a hockey destination as well as where the two players are in their careers.
Thornton and Marleau, of course, have zero Stanley Cups between them despite making it to a couple conference finals. San Jose has been a popular pick to win it almost every year going back to 2002 and though they've been fool's gold for a decade, the best chance these two veterans have to win a Cup at 34 (Thornton) and 33 (Marleau) was to stay on with the Sharks.
In these days of parity the difference between winning and being a perpetual also-ran is razor thin. The Sharks were ousted in only Round 2 of last season's playoffs, but were they much different than the Kings team that knocked them out, or the Hawks team that won it all? One fortunate bounce in Game 7 would have sent the Sharks to Round 3, which would have been their third conference final in four years.
Over the past four years, the only teams with more playoff round wins than the Sharks are the three teams that won the Cup. But two of those champions have more first round exits in that span than the Sharks. The exception are the Bruins, who play out of the much less competitive East.
Series wins over the past four years
Los Angeles: 6
San Jose: 5
Of course, in the two conference finals the Sharks did advance to, they earned a grand total of one win. And in their one first round exit, they were manhandled by the still-strong St. Louis Blues. Those disastrous shortfalls remain good reasons to stay away from the Sharks when you're selecting a Cup favorite.
But all it takes is one. And the Sharks certainly have the talent and depth to make you think twice about pigeon-holing them as a team built to fail in the post-season.
They are an elite team with more to prove than any other NHL franchise and their long-standing leaders are running out of time to change the assumptions that have followed them.
Marleau and Thornton's best chance to win the Stanley Cup that has eluded them remains in San Jose - and San Jose's best chance to win its first Cup remains with Marleau and Thornton on the roster.
These deals keep a contending core in place, at a price that makes everyone happy. Thornton, Marleau, Burns, Pavelski, Couture and Vlasic are all under contract through 2016-17, so the Sharks have at least that long to change their cursed narrative.
Now they and their skippers just have to do it. No one ever said it would be easy.