Over the course of the period before the NHL draft, Blades of Teal will be writing “Season In Review” pieces for every member of the San Jose Sharks’ roster during the 2013-2014 season. Today, we will be taking a look at Joe Thornton.
Thornton put up comparable numbers to his last few seasons, with 11 goals and 65 assists, playing in all 82 games. He finished second on the team in points with 76, and his 65 assists was good enough for second in the league.
In seven playoff games, Thornton netted two goals with one assist and a plus-minus rating of -6.
Thornton is 34 years old and just finished his 15th season in the NHL, but shows no signs of slowing down.
The Sharks’ captain continues to be the team’s best and most consistent, reliable player. He was a staple on the first line, amidst the several lines changes that head coach Todd McLellan made around him. But that’s the beauty of having Thornton on the team; no matter who his linemates are, he will find a way to get them the puck and gain some confidence. That’s why, at some points during the season, rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Neito saw playing time on the wing with Thornton, and it’s no surprise that both Hertl and Nieto had outstanding rookie campaigns.
Thornton’s prowess and high hockey IQ are still there. He still makes incredible passes, creating dynamite scoring chances that appear out of nowhere. He can score if he wants, but his ardent unselfishness and uncanny ability to find that tiny opening to deliver a perfect pass is what makes him a superstar.
The oh-so-familiar criticisms of Thornton are coming down on him again.
No championships. Chokes in the playoffs. Disappears when the team needs him most. Great player, guaranteed Hall of Famer, but no ring. The Karl Malone of the NHL.
For Thornton, recording three points in the seven game series against the Kings isn’t going to help squash his critics. In fact, he literally disappeared when his team needed him most, failing to register a single point in Games 3 through 7, when the Sharks just needed one win to advance. Instead, Thornton was held off the stat sheet and could only watch as the Kings stormed back from a 3-0 series deficit and pulled off an incredible comeback.
It is a playoff series that Thornton won’t forget for a long time. The only thing missing from his storied resume is a Stanley Cup, because his accomplishments should earn him a trip to the Hall of Fame when he retires. The question, however, is will he run out of time before he can get that elusive ring? He is 34, and probably has 3-4 more productive seasons in him (Thornton signed a three-year extension with the Sharks during the season). But until he can lead a team to the Promised Land, Thornton will forever be known as that NHL great who could never win a championship.
In terms of his play on the ice, it’s awfully tough to point out any negatives. Yes, he should shoot the puck more; his 122 shots on goal during the regular season are his lowest in his career in a full season. Perhaps being more aggressive would suit him well in the postseason, when teams clamp down on defense and cut off some of Thornton’s passes.
Speaking of defense, Thornton is average at best in his own zone, but the good news is that when he is on the ice, the puck is usually in the opponents’ defensive zone. The man is an offensive wizard, and there is very little to complain about in terms of what he brings to the table night in and night out.
It’s just that thorn in the side that has been his only downfall – that Stanley Cup that he and the Sharks can never seem to win.
There are plenty of on-ice moments to choose from, but we’ll have to go with a quote for Thornton’s best moment of the season.
First, some background: On Oct. 8, Hertl scored four goals in a game against the Rangers, and the final tally was a between-the-legs, top shelf beauty that made the highlight reels around the country. Unfortunately, since Hertl’s fourth goal made it 8-2 Sharks in the third period, the rookie was accused of “showboating” and showing up his opponent.
Two days later, the Sharks were in Vancouver preparing for a game against the Canucks. Before the game, Patrick Marleau was asked about whether Hertl was “showboating” on that goal. Overhearing the question, Thornton jumped in and provided the quote of the season:
“I’d have my c— out if I scored four goals,” he said. “I’d have my c— out, stroking it.”
Thank God he hasn’t scored four goals in a game – yet.