San Jose Sharks’ center Joe Thornton, will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever he decides to hang up his skates. A career like Thornton’s has dozens of top moments, but there are five that stand above the rest.
1997 NHL Draft Day
In 1997, Thornton was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins. He was fresh off of a 122-point and 123 penalty-minute season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. Thornton was heralded as a big, physical, and dominant top-line center with impeccable vision. He may not be throwing out big hits any longer, but he still doesn’t shy away from physical players and areas of the ice. He has learned to use his body as a shield when protecting the puck and even at nearly 40 years old, he is still one of the hardest players to get the puck from.
Thornton went on to become the captain for the Bruins and their franchise player. He was the NHL’s third-leading scorer in the 2002-03 season as a Bruin.
First Stanley Cup Final
It took nearly 20 years, but Thornton reached his first Stanley Cup Final in 2016. He was coming off of an 82-point campaign, his best season since 2010. In the playoffs, he carried over the same level of play he exhibited in the regular season by recording 21 points in 24 games and was second in the league in playoff assists, behind his teammate Logan Couture.
Thornton and the Sharks came up short in their quest for the Cup, but it was a shared first experience for Thornton and the Sharks organization. Thornton may go down as one of the best players in the history of the NHL to never win a Cup if he doesn’t achieve the ultimate goal in the next few seasons.
Art Ross and Hart Trophies
Thornton was off to a hot start in the 2005-06 season with the Boston Bruins. He had 33 points in the first 23 games of the season before he was traded to the Sharks (more on this later). The offensive production got better after he arrived in San Jose and formed one of the deadliest duos in Sharks history with Jonathan Cheechoo. Thornton put up 93 points in the remaining 58 games with the Sharks to capture the Art Ross Trophy with a total of 125 points. Cheechoo scored 56 goals to claim the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. Thornton’s impact on the Sharks and Cheechoo was enough to anoint him as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player and Hart Trophy recipient.
Thornton is the only Shark ever to win the Art Ross or the Hart and his 125-point season is not only the best in Sharks history, but it is the best NHL season since Jaromir Jagr’s 127-point campaign in 1998-99.
2011 Series-Clinching Goal Against the Kings
Jumbo Joe is known for his passing first and foremost, but his series-clinching goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2011 postseason was nothing short of spectacular. The goal itself wasn’t anything that would appear on a highlight tape during the regular season, but clinching a hard-fought series against an in-state rival in overtime and capping it off with a celebration for the ages makes this goal one the best on-ice moment of Thornton’s career.
The Thornton Trade
In the hockey world, when someone says ‘the trade’, people think of when Wayne Gretzky was dealt to the Kings by the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 1988. In San Jose, if you ask a fan what ‘the trade’ is, they will tell you where they were sitting when they found out Joe Thornton became a San Jose Shark.
On Nov. 30, 2005, Thornton was acquired from the Bruins for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart, and Marco Sturm. This was the biggest moment of Thornton’s career and the biggest moment in Sharks franchise history. Thornton came to a place where he was wanted and needed. The Sharks got the franchise center that they had been longing for since their inaugural season in 1991.
It didn’t take long for Thornton to have an impact on the Sharks and the entire league. As mentioned before, he won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in the same season as the trade. From the moment he arrived in San Jose, he was the best center in the Western Conference, and he held that title until around 2014. It’s rare that a franchise player is traded for pennies on the dollar while they are in their prime, but for Thornton and the Sharks it couldn’t have worked out any better.
* originally published in Aug. 2018