Entering the 2018-19 season, many questions swirled around the San Jose Sharks. Was the landscape-altering deal for Erik Karlsson enough to catapult them into Stanley Cup contenders? Would this be the season Martin Jones reaches 40 wins? And how would Joe Thornton perform without his signature chin rug?
After a disappointing start, Karlsson has resumed his Norris Trophy-winning ways. He has points in 16 of his last 18 games. Jones already has 22 wins in 35 games. But “Jumbo” Joe is not his usual self. Beyond his .55 points-per-game average this season lagging behind his .95 career average, it’s clear he misses his cookie duster.
Goodbye, Old Friend
In a moment of delusion, on Oct. 2, 2018, Thornton allowed his bearded brother Brent Burns to tame his savage beast. Using commercial-grade shears, Burns mercilessly removed Jumbo’s luxurious facial carpet. It was the most dramatic preseason roster cut ever–more than dropping a player–it was losing one of the most iconic Dumbledores in sports history, as traumatic as losing a limb.
End of an era … start of something special! Lets get it going again 💪 pic.twitter.com/U4yJVxbqKh
— Brent Burns (@Burnzie88) October 2, 2018
The sacred, scraggly monstrosity wasn’t just decorative, it was functional. Aside from mesmerizing opponents, it helped lower his center of gravity. It also provided warmth, warded off throat disease and provided a natural sunscreen from the sun’s damaging rays. Because he didn’t shave, the time savings alone helped clear up Thornton’s schedule for more important things, like perfecting his Chewbacca impersonations.
When the news hit that Thornton’s whimsical whiskers had been sheared, fans all over the world bowed their head in a moment of communal silence. Some went immediately into a solemn state of mourning. Many feared for Thornton’s health and screamed in Nancy Kerrigan-like fashion, “Why?!? Why?!? did it happen?” The iconic tumbleweed had been on his face since the day he was born and had become a national treasure.
The Kadri Incident
Rumors swirled that Jumbo made the decision to lop off his longtime face sweater because he was afraid of being confused with the Philadelphia Flyers hairy new mascot, Gritty. He or it should be so lucky. Searching for the pivotal moment when Thornton decided to bounce his bristles may trace back to an altercation on Jan. 4, 2018 when Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs tore out a fistful of Thornton natural faceshield.
That night, off the opening draw in the faceoff circle, Thornton and Kadri exchanged stick whacks and pleasantries, then dropped their gloves. During the fight, Kadri reached for Thornton’s collar and instead grasped a fistful of hair. Clutching Thornton’s furry friend was inevitable. The two tussled and threw punches. By the time the linesmen split them up, a clump of Thornton’s beard was lying on the ice.
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) January 5, 2018
The New, Beardless Joe
After saying good riddance to his beard in the preseason, the new kid wearing Jumbo’s No. 19 appeared younger. With less wind drag, he appeared more aerodynamic, which he had hoped would lead to increased speed. Though the winds of change no longer blow through the dense, thick forest on Thornton’s face, it hasn’t translated onto the scoresheet.
No longer with the look of a rebellious Rasputin, Thornton went largely unnoticeable among his teammates through the first few weeks of the season.
Thornton’s Quest for a Cup
The aging Thornton was hoping that a fresh, clean facial slate would do him well as he continues his quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. This is the 21st season of his NHL career, so time is running out for the veteran Shark. Time will tell if the calculated and deliberate move to butcher his beard pans out and the Sharks get the job done.
Right now the fan favorite’s numbers are a little off as he wrestles with nightmares that include a haunting buzz of an electric razor. He has 10 goals and 12 assists in 40 games. That said, the team is quickly rising in the Western Conference, currently in second place.
Come the playoffs, Thornton will likely continue the superstition of not shaving. By the second or third game of the first series, he should be rocking a decent mane and resume his appearance of that of a shipwrecked fool.
*Relax. It’s satire.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”