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The straw that stirs the drink
Thornton mixing in well with Shark recipe
12/8/05 - By Paul Krill

Assessing his own impact, baseball great Reggie Jackson once referred to himself as the straw that stirs the drink. Given Jackson's long list of accomplishments, too long to go through in a hockey column, it's hard to argue with his reasoning. So what does this have to do with hockey or the Sharks in particular? I'm thinking that Joe Thornton could be the straw that stirs the drink for the Sharks. After two games in a Sharks uniform, the results are beginning to bear this out.

A moribund offense has been ignited, scoring five goals each in two games. Playing on a line with Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo had two goals in Thornton's Sharks debut. Some of the pressure is off the goaltending and defense, since teams can't score on the Sharks if Thornton is keeping the puck at the other end of the ice.

Thornton has four points in the two games, which have resulted in what I believe are the two ideal types of outcomes for a Sharks fan: A blowout victory decided in the first period in Buffalo, and a nail biter in Toronto, with the Sharks hanging on to win. That Toronto game was fabulously entertaining, featuring a strong start by the Sharks, the team slipping back into its recent, failing ways and then storming back to take command of the ice. It's nice to see the Sharks so entertaining again, because entertainment is the business they are in.

I believe Thornton will do fine in San Jose. He won't have the ghosts of Bobby Orr, etc, to contend with, and no 33-year-old Stanley Cup banners are hanging from the rafters. While I'm not in Boston, I'll bet the Bruins having the longest championship drought in that city has put some pressure on that team, and Thornton was the star, which likely put even more pressure on him.

He also was the first in his draft class; remember, Patrick Marleau had 125 points in his junior year in 1997, but Thornton was still hands-down the consensus #1 pick that year.

Here, GM Doug Wilson already has said Thornton is not expected to be the savior of the franchise. And, let's face it, this aint Hockey Central here in the Bay Area. Thornton can go to the Valley Fair Mall, Safeway, etc, and it's not likely he'll be recognized by too many people. So there is less pressure outside the rink.

Thornton is a young player with a couple years left on his contract, which means he should be with the Sharks for a while. Of course, it's never fun to watch fan favorites like Marco Sturm or Brad Stuart leave, but a 10-game losing streak is a 10-game losing streak: Something big had to be done. Trading for Thornton was big and we weren't going to get him for nothing.

The timing of the trade also works out well for the Sharks box office, given the less-than-stellar gate attractions coming to San Jose this week: Atlanta, Florida and Carolina. Thornton provides a reason for fans to come out, and the team is winning again. The bad new schedule format, which offers no appearances by marquee Eastern Conference teams, meant the Sharks were going to have to do something dramatic to bring in fans. Relying on seven more home games against the Mighty Ducks and Coyotes was not likely to have fans lining up for tickets to watch a Sharks' team that wasn't winning.

Of course, the Sharks dug themselves quite a hole in the past month while losing 10 straight games. Visions of that 1992-93 team that won 11 games all year started dancing in my head. The two victories over the weekend are a start, but that certainly doesn't guarantee the Sharks will make the playoffs. There still is quite a lot of work to be done.

Let's welcome Joe Thornton to the Sharks' fold and hope he can continue doing what he's been doing: Making players around him better and adding up more points in a Sharks uniform.

…Penalty Shots

The irony of the Thornton acquisition is, of course, that another loss or two in 1997 would have had Thornton playing for the Sharks all along…The Bruins are 2-1 as of Sunday since the trade, so maybe this is a deal that works for everyone…Rather than relying on the usual, dead-tired "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" theme that has been pervasive among national publications when writing about the Sharks, The Hockey News magazine came up with by far the most entertaining headline about the deal that I've seen. The headline: "Thornton Fed to the Sharks."

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