The San Jose Sharks struck gold in late 2005 when they acquired Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins. What has followed is a stream of excellent regular season play and the exciting rise of one of hockey’s greats.
Unfortunately, this story has yet to end with a Stanley Cup.
The past two seasons have been a roller coaster for Thornton and the Sharks. The former would see his captaincy stripped away, and San Jose would experience perhaps the most upsetting series loss in franchise history.
The team had an excellent 2013-14 season, reinforcing their home dominance with a record of 29-7-5. Finishing second in the Pacific Division, notably one of the toughest to play in, fans were left more optimistic than ever for the cup to reach San Jose.
That is, until the Los Angeles Kings succeeded in reverse sweeping the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. At this point, fans have weighed in on Thornton’s demotion, memorized the statistics, and are justifiably tired of hearing about the upset that may haunt us all for years to come. I know I am.
Still, this playoff fiasco should not be forgotten. Combined with the many changes the team has made since then, this will hopefully produce unmatched motivation for each and every part of an organization that is unfamiliar with a mere 82-game season.
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In recent years, Joe Thornton has received plenty of criticism, most notably for his playoff slumps. The responsibility for the team’s lack of hardware has often fallen on the shoulders of No. 19. Serving as captain for several years, this is to be expected, but not entirely warranted.
At 36 years old, Thornton has plenty of life ahead of him. In the hockey world, however, he is well on the wrong end of 30 and his days as a cup contender are quickly passing him by.
Despite his so-called shortcomings, Thornton remains a strong contender for an eventual Hall of Fame induction. His unmatched passing ability, size, and innate hockey sense have made him a fan favorite and a shoo-in to receive a leadership role from new head coach Peter DeBoer.
During what was considered a decline in performance last season by Joe Thornton, certainly in numbers at least, he is far from unproductive. Thornton finished with 65 points (49 A, 16 G) and a minus-four rating, compared to the 2013-14 season that would see Thornton tally 76 points (65 A, 11 G) and a +20 rating.
With numbers like these, it’s clear many players would kill to have Thornton’s “slump” year. Joe Thornton at his worst is still a force to be reckoned with and he has plenty to be proud of.
Cup or no cup, Thornton continues to exhibit some of the greatest skill in the game.
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The upcoming 2015-16 season is particularly important for several reasons. Under DeBoer, the Sharks are expected to experience a bounceback season that will have several new faces.
The additions of Paul Martin, Joel Ward, and the highly anticipated Martin Jones, along with several excellent prospects, appear to have this organization headed in the right direction.
Thornton is expected to skate alongside Ward and Joe Pavelski; the latter of which is coming off an impressive season that saw him lead the team with 70 points (37 G, 33 A).
Pavelski has proven to be a true leader both on and off the ice. He has certainly earned himself some sort of leadership role. Between Ward, Pavelski, and Thornton, the Sharks predicted top line is expected to have great success.
With several new faces, a fresh coaching staff, the organization’s 25th year anniversary, and many players coming off their longest period of rest in years, the 2015-16 season is sure to be a memorable one.
DeBoer would be wise to award Joe Thornton captaincy once again. The veteran center will look to improve his numbers this season, maintain a strong presence in the locker room, and prove once again why he deserves to be called Jumbo Joe.
After all, if Joe Thornton’s facial expression after losing Game 7 to the Kings during the 2014 playoffs tells us anything, it’s that he has the necessary motivation going forward. That look of a soul-crushing defeat suggests the heart of a true champion hungry for another chance to bring the cup to San Jose.