The (apparently) former Sharks captain Joe Thornton is 17th overall in the NHL when it comes to playoff points per game since the 2012 postseason. Thornton’s 18 points in 23 games comes out to a .78 points per game rate, which is better than Jonathan Toews’ .73, Marian Gaborik’s .72, and the Kings’ Mr. Game 7 “clutch man” Justin Williams’ .77. The description “playoff under performer” should never be associated with Thornton during his time in San Jose.
Joe Thornton Is Really, Really Good
Joe Thornton is really, really good. Really, really, Donkey? Really, really.
The school of hockey thought that I grew up with rates centers as much more valuable, and as we know the NHL’s Western Conference is much tougher than the East. The only three Western Conference centers with better playoff PPG rates than Thornton over the last three years are Ryan Getzlaf. 1.1, Anze Kopitar. .86, and Jeff Carter, .80.
With small sample sizes in particular, these differences in points per game are rather minimal. Getzlaf, Kopitar, Toews, Carter, and Thornton are all top of the line producers of offense. Based off this one statistic alone, nobody can make a case for one over the other.
That said, there is a case to be made for Thornton being the best of the bunch. When it comes to face-off percentage, Thornton’s 56.1 success rate blows Getzlaf out of the water. Anaheim’s top center wasn’t even over 50%, maybe starting with the puck a bit more would help the Ducks’ possession woes.
Possessing the Puck
Speaking of possession, when looking at players who played in over 70 games last season, Thornton was 7th overall according to behindthenet.ca, ahead of Getzlaf and Carter but behind Toews and Kopitar. When it comes to being a true elite center in the Western Conference, one that can score, dominate the circle and possess the puck, the stats are showing you want Thornton ahead of Carter and Getzlaf.
That leaves Kopitar, Toews, and Thornton as the three top centers in the West. Before you throw my Sharks bias in my face, let me state that personally I do believe Kopitar and Toews are better players. However, there is one particular stat that allows one to argue in favor of Thornton being the best player in the Western Conference (or at least better than Kopitar).
Last season, of all skaters who played over 500 minutes at five on five, Thornton finished 13th overall in points per 60. His 2.50 mark was just barely behind Sidney Crosby’s 2.54 (12th overall), and Evgeni Malkin’s 2.57 (10th). It was slightly ahead of Toews’ 2.35 (22nd) and far superior to Kopitar’s 1.95 (74th).
As the popular Sharks blog Fear the Fin points out, Thornton is still the Sharks MVP. He frequently faces tough matchups and is asked to take a lot of key defensive zone face-offs. He simply shines in every meaningful way, up and down the ice against elite competition.
Is he the best player in the Western Conference? No, probably not. However, no one hockey statistic proves one player to be the best. It is still a subjective stance based off objective information. However, it is interesting to note that Thornton only had nine fewer even strength points (66 vs 57) than Crosby had last season despite playing in the tougher conference.
The point to be had here is that Thornton is still without a doubt a top-10 player in the NHL. Any thoughts the Sharks had of trading him were put there via inception by either Leonardo DiCaprio or Kings GM Dean Lombardi. Unless your favorite player is Toews, Crosby, Malkin, or Kopitar, chances are Thornton is probably better than him.