SAN JOSE -- They say they don't look at the coming NHL season as any sort of last hurrah.
But here's the reality: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle -- the three most high-profile and highly-paid Sharks over the past five seasons -- all have contracts expiring at the end of the 2013-14 season.
The three, as well as general manager Doug Wilson, play down any sense that this is it, their last collective shot at the Stanley Cup. The players all say they want to return. At 33, Marleau and Thornton aren't close to calling it quits; Boyle, 37, insists he has plenty of hockey left in him and notes he's still a long way from his 1,000th NHL game.
And while Wilson was tight-lipped as usual on contract matters, he did acknowledge that extensions have been discussed with each player.
"You know how I feel about them," Wilson said. "You know how they feel about here."
Good will and good intentions, however, are complicated by the fact that the Sharks are a team in transition. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are now the ones with the long-term deals that reflect their increased value on the ice.
But Thornton, Marleau and Boyle have been the mainstays for a Sharks franchise good enough to have made the playoffs for nine straight years, an NHL streak second only to the Detroit Red Wings. Yet the team hasn't been good enough to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
The three are still integral to the team's success and recognized among the NHL's elite players. But their productivity has declined. So has their ice time.
Combine those factors with the NHL's salary cap, and it's fairly certain the three would have to be willing to sign for less than their current salaries of $6.9 million for Marleau, $6.7 million for Boyle and $6 million for Thornton if they want to come back. But how much less?
"Every general manager has got to fit together pieces of the puzzle," said George Bazos, who is Boyle's agent. "And as the other guys make more, hard decisions have to be made on not just the older guys, but everybody on the team."
Bazos also understands that a "hometown discount" could come into play, but suggested that it might not be as deep as some might expect.
"You've got to remember that a hometown discount comes against a marketplace," Bazos said. "Now where is the marketplace? What's it going to be next year? All indications are the cap is going to increase and when that happens, salaries increase."
The only one of the three with his name on the Stanley Cup from his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boyle said he doesn't see any "last hurrah" as extra motivation this season.
"I've been trying to win here for five years," he said. "The last year or not, it certainly bothers me that we haven't won yet. But I don't look at it that way."
Marleau is the only one of the three who has spent his entire career as a Shark. He also played down the idea of this season being different.
"You want to play your best and do well. If you do all those things, it'll take care of itself," Marleau said. When the subject of a hometown discount came up, he noted "it's been done already." That was a reference to his four-year contract that is about to expire.
For Marleau, these negotiations are different in another way. Don Baizley, his agent since being drafted second overall in the 1997 draft, died this summer. Marleau said he has not hired anyone else to this point, and so far all talks have been between himself and Wilson.
Thornton talked optimistically about the Sharks veteran leadership sticking around as younger players take on a bigger share of the load. And he saw that combination keeping San Jose in the hunt.
"This team wants to be together for a long time and it'll be together for a long time," the captain said. "This team can be good as long as it wants to be."
The Sharks' next generation does see some motivational value in the fact that this could be the last go-round with all the key players in place.
"I don't think guys are worrying about that too much," Pavelski said. "But, yeah, obviously we want to win together and we've got to find a way to accomplish that this year."
training camps and what countries they will represent
Vancouver at Sharks, 7 p.m. CSNCA