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Thornton signs extension
Sharks lose Hannan on 1st day of free agency
7/1/07 - By Mike Lee

The NHL free agency signing period opened on Monday and Sharks GM Doug Wilson decided to take care of his most important asset, signing center Joe Thornton to a three-year contract extension. The deal will keep Thornton in team through the 2010-2011 season, but more importantly avoids a contract standoff next season.

Thornton still has one year remaining on the deal he signed as a member of the Boston Bruins.

"Joe Thornton is among the top group of elite players in the National Hockey League," said Wilson. "In addition to his play on the ice, Joe leads by example and has as much love for the game as anyone I have seen. Making sure Joe remained in San Jose was a top priority and he will be an integral part of our franchise as we march towards our goal of competing for the Stanley Cup next year and for years to come."

Announcing the deal on the day unrestricted free-agents may begin inking deals with any club was an interesting move by San Jose, considering that they did nothing out of the gate with external players.

After their early playoff exit last Spring, Wilson suggested that he would tinker with his lineup in an attempt to overcome the shortcomings that ended the Sharks Stanley Cup run.

Many pundits speculated the trade of Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell allowed the Sharks to open up salary cap room to sign one of the bigger name free agents available. Chris Drury's name has come up more than once in the past few weeks as a potential target for San Jose, but the center signed a 5-year deal for $35.2 million.

Other notable free agents, such as Daniel Briere and Mathieu Schneider also signed contracts on Sunday. Schneider will face the Sharks as a division rival after signing a two-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks. Briere inked an 8-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $52 million with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Sharks lost Scott Hannan, who signed an $18 million contract that will keep the defenseman in Colorado for the next 4 years. It's unclear how close the Sharks were to re-signing their most tenured blueliner, but Wilson suggested earlier in the week that he had hoped to bring the 28-year-old back to San Jose. The Avalanche also signed Ryan Smyth to a long term deal.

After dealing Toskala & Bell, and allowing Hannan to resign with the Avalanche, Wilson's lineup tinkering has been limited to departures, but no additions. The Sharks are already light at left wing and Hannan's departure leaves them one down a #1 or #2 defender.

San Jose's blueline currently consists of Craig Rivet, who was re-signed on Tuesday, Kyle McLaren, Matt Carle, Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray and Rob Davison. Don't count on the Sharks carrying those 7 as they're regular group of defensemen.

In addition to Schneider, Brian Raflaski was the other notable defenseman who signed a contract on Sunday, joining the Detroit Red Wings. Sheldon Sourey and Darryl Sydor are other possible options, although Sourey is expected to fetch upwards of $4million per season.

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