During the opening two weeks of the 2013-2014 NHL season Tomas Hertl has received mass acclaim for scoring seven goals and recording two assists, as the San Jose Sharks jumped out to a perfect 6-0 record. This contribution was capped off by an epic four goal performance against the New York Rangers, when Hertl scored what has already gained mass acclaim as the goal of the season. This contribution both in one game and throughout the season has put Hertl on the forefront of the public’s mind, with many anointing him as the most valuable players on the team’s roster.
What this fails to recognize is that while Hertl has been extremely valuable to the Sharks, he has simply not been their best player thus far. This isn’t a knock on his play, but an ode to Joe Thornton, who has been the best player for the Sharks this season, through his ability to play strong two way hockey, provide needed leadership, and generally make life easier for Hertl.
Throughout the first six games of the regular season the peripheral statistics for Thornton are exceptional, as they read: 1 goal, 8 assists, a +9 power ratings, and 18:11 average time on ice. To say that these statistics would put Thornton in the upper echelon of players within the NHL would be an understatement, and during a contract year this output is lining up the 34 year old for a final big pay day and a sport on the 2014 Canadian Olympic roster.
But aside from just putting up individual statistics that will boost the value of his next contract and ensure a spot in the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team is that Thornton has been as astute, if underrated leader both on an off the ice. Playing center with the young Hertl flanking him to the left and the inexperienced Brent Burns on his right, Thornton has been called upon to contribute in the defensive end and lead by example more than ever before. Thornton has taken this added responsibility in stride, taking up a more physically noticeable presence in the defensive end, which has in turn allowed his offensive minded wingers to flourish in the offensive zone. In this end of the ice Thornton has created scoring chances at ease, and Burns and Hertl have capitalized by contributing ten goals in seven games.
Aside from the on ice portion of contribution Thornton has also had a major impact on shielding Hertl away from undue press and criticism, if at times this was on accident. After the game in which Hertl scored four goals questions were raised as to whether Thornton felt the young star was showboating, to which he said:“Shut up, have you ever played the game? I’d have my c— out if I scored four goals. I’d have my c— out, stroking it.” Of course these comments were not meant to go on the record, but the point still remains that Thornton was sticking up for his young line mate to the press, for better or worse. While some have questioned the press’ ethics in relaying this story to the public, it stands to reason that this moment was actually beneficial for Hertl and Thornton, as everyone now knows they have each others backs.
While mass attention has gone to Tomas Hertl as a result of his great offensive contributions thus far in the 2013-2014 season, the facts show that he simply has not been the San Jose Sharks best forward. That designation belongs to Joe Thornton, who has been the stalwart for the Sharks as they have gotten out to a tremendous start. Continuation of this play throughout the entirety of the season will result in Thornton playing in the 2014 Olympics, receiving a huge payday, and maybe even delivering a long awaited Stanley Cup to San Jose.