When thinking about Joe Thornton, one word comes to mind. Big. Whether it’s talking about his size – 6 foot 4, 222 pounds, or his impact in the San Jose Sharks lineup, there is really no other word that can be used to describe him other than “Jumbo,” which NHL fans have referred to him as endearingly throughout his career.
Joe Thornton – Stats
Simply looking at Joe Thornton’s stats, it’s clear that he’s in a class of his own. His 384 career goals are respectable, but it’s really his assist total that stands out. 1,007 assists in 1,446 games. Only 13 players have ever hit the 1,000 assist mark, and Thornton is one of them. With 1,391 points in 1,446 games, Thornton is all but certain for a spot in the Hall of Fame one day. Consistency is also an impressive part of Thornton’s game. From his consistent point totals ranging from 60 to 114 points each season dating back to the 1999-00 season (not including the lockout-shortened season when he posted 40 points in 48 games), and 50 points this season, to his most recent streak of 201 consecutive games played, Thornton’s consistency is a big part of his game.
201 Consecutive Games Ending
After playing in 201 consecutive games dating back to the 2014-15 season, Thornton’s streak ended Tuesday when the Sharks took on the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks ultimately won the game 3-1, but it was still strange to see the Sharks play a game without Jumbo Joe in the lineup. This was the sentiment that Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer expressed ahead of the game.
“You just take for granted that he’s always there,” DeBoer said. “But I think we’re built for this type of adversity. We have depth. We have guys that can play [multiple] positions. It’s an exciting challenge.”
The Sharks clearly lived up to their coach’s words, but the impact that Thornton brings to the lineup was still noticeable missing all the same. Some of the NHL’s best players have missed time with their respective teams finding success in the interim – the Sharks are a good enough team that this could be the case with Thornton being deemed out indefinitely for the time being, but it wasn’t the case in the team’s second game without the big center as the Sharks lost 4-2 to the Edmonton Oilers. The absence of Thornton in the locker room and on the ice clearly plays a role in the team’s gameplan. Every player is required to step up as a result – even players that don’t typically play a big role.
Thornton has played in at least 77 games in each season dating back to the 2002-03 season, again, not including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season in which Thornton played in all 48 games. The 37-year-old has played a full season six times, missing the mark by one game in another three. The most impressive part about Thorton’s durability is the fact that he’s still showing he can make a big impact and play in every game despite his accelerated age.
Joe Thornton – Contract
One narrative that isn’t talked about very much is the fact that Thornton’s contract, a three-year deal is coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Given how successful the Sharks have been in each of the last two seasons, it will be interesting to see their plan of action with Thornton who is set to be 38 years old a the start of the 2017-18 season. If players like Thornton, Marian Hossa, Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara and Andrei Markov among others have proven anything, however, it’s that players in the late stages of their careers can still play meaningful hockey and play a role in the postseason.
The Sharks will also have to deal with contracts to fellow 37-year-old Patrick Marleau as well as restricted free agent deals to Melker Karlsson, Marcus Sorensen and Joonas Donskoi in the upcoming offseason. At that time, they’ll have to decide what their future looks like and who the team can afford to keep, and who they’ll have to cut loose while evaluating how long their current competitive window can last.
With the big impact that Thornton has made on the Sharks roster – be it through his play on the ice or influence on the younger players in the lineup, the decision won’t be an easy one. Given how well Thornton has played throughout his career, though, the Sharks should be willing to keep their big star under contract as long as the deal makes sense for both sides.
For now, the goal is succeeding in the postseason. The Sharks and Thornton have had successful seasons together, but the one thing that has eluded the veteran in his career is the Stanley Cup. Though the Sharks were close last season, qualifying for and ultimately losing the Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the big one has always been out of reach for Thornton and the Sharks franchise. Thornton has said there is no doubt that he’ll be ready to go for the playoffs – something that the Sharks can take solace in as the regular season winds down.