Joe Thornton is one of the most disrespected players in the National Hockey League.
Amidst a player contingent consisting of mean, disrespectful, reckless, or overvalued hockey players, Jumbo Joe stands alone as the man who can never get any respect. He has been labeled a “choker” and incapable of competing in the playoffs. He was cited as one of the players who was responsible for the Sharks’ closing playoff window last year, and when it remained open the credit was given to Logan Couture. His team has been labeled Couture’s, there is no traction for a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team in Sochi, and his ability to make the Hockey Hall of Fame has even been questioned.
Of all the asinine statements made about Thornton, the Hall of Fame remark is the most ridiculous. His credentials are a given. Even if he were to retire tomorrow, Joe Thornton wouldn’t only make the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he would do so on the first ballot. Looking at every criteria on which players are judged for this honour, Thornton fits them all.
One argument that people put forth to determine whether a player is worthy of a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame is their performance at the peak of their career. While Eric Lindros’ career was short and injury-filled, the years in which he dominated have placed him as a fringe candidate every year. The average player sees their best results between the ages of 23 and 28, and Thornton was no different. Below are his stats of 509 points and 1.27 points per game in 399 games between those notable ages (via hockeyreference.com):
Since 1990, only three other players have had similar outputs in their prime, two of which are Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr, who are locks to make the Hall following their retirement. The other man is Pierre Turgeon, who has been eligible for just four years and his lack of hardware has seen him shunned of a top-ballot induction. However, Thornton’s whopping 0.93 assists per game and Hart Trophy win in his prime is proof that he was a force to be reckoned with in his heyday, and anybody casting their vote off of that criteria would be foolish to not acknowledge this.
Other people look for durability when voting for Hall of Famers, and Thornton has already proven his ability to be an effective player in the latter portion of his career. In his 315 games played as a 30-year-old or older, Thornton has posted a 0.97 point per game pace. Here are players since 1990 who have posted similar statistics between the ages of 30 and 34:
Joe Thornton, compared to those who have played over 300 games in that age bracket, has played the least amount of games, and accordingly has the least amount of points. However, the competition in this group is phenomenal. In the past 24 years, prolific Hall-of-Famers such as Messier, Francis, Oates, Gretzky, Yzerman, Gilmour, Bourque, Coffey, and Sakic have been the only ones to out-produce Thornton in their first years after age 30. The only other man is Martin St. Louis, and he too is a given to make the Hall. Joe, with 31 points in 28 games thus far this season, will likely add to these impressive totals.
Hockey Reference also tracks a statistic called point shares, which estimates how many wins an individual has been responsible for on his team. As it is a total and not an average, the more games played almost certainly raises one’s point shares. Below is a chart for players who have played less than 1200 games in the National Hockey League:
In the NHL, only 5 players who have played less than 1200 games have had more point shares than Thornton, all of which are icons of the sport. Thornton is not on the same playing field as these men, but his 126.1 point shares currently put him in the top 50 of all time. He has averaged about 9 in his past 3 full seasons, but if he only recorded 8 point shares for the next four seasons (aged 38), he would be slotted in at 20th of all time in that category, regardless of games played. While this statistic isn’t entirely indicative of a player’s worth, to see the company that Thornton is in is quite impressive.
Ultimately, the impact that Joe Thornton has had on the game, and on every team he has played on, is astronomical. His vision on the ice coupled with stellar hands have made him the marquee playmaker of the modern-era, and has shown that in a game relying on speed, one can still strive without being the quickest.
Joe Thornton is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He’s been deemed an insignificant playoff performer and somebody who never plays at his peak. But even in his latest season, his point-per-game pace and leadership not only is leading the Sharks to a stellar record, but he will likely single-handedly win Tomas Hertl the Calder Trophy. The Sharks are his team, he is still the pinnacle of passing, and at age 34 Jumbo Joe continues to dominate the league. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, he’s a great ambassador of the sport, and Joe Thornton is certainly worthy of respect.