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The Curious Case of Joe Thornton
Is the captain worthy of his C?
12/22/13 - By Ken Smyth -

Sharks' fans run hot and cold about Joe Thornton. Thornton is unquestionably one of the game's most dangerous passers between the faceoff dots and the net. Replace one of his wingers with a sack of pucks placed four feet from the crease and it'll score ten goals a season. But it's frustrating to watch him give up a shot at an open net for a questionable pass across the ice or be tied up by some middle-of-the-pack team that knows how to grab.

A forward who doesn't mind taking a penalty or an occasional glove in the face can take advantage of Thornton's average speed and long stride, and will keep his stick in Joe's way all night long. Any opposing coach will sacrifice a third-line's contribution to offense if it means stopping Joe from making those passes into happy land around the net.

As team captain, Joe Thornton is an accessible interview after the game, win or lose. You can tell if the team lost by the angle of his chin when he talks with the reporters. He's very chatty with the normal comments about getting pucks to the net and making good things happen. Occasionally as with Tomas Hertl's showtime goal, there's a little something extra. You could wish for him to be a little less professional after a loss, maybe smash up the dressing room after the team drops a game by one goal after leading by two. But that's not cool, and Joe is cool above all.

Part of being cool is not getting too hot on the ice. Did you see Thornton fight Drew Doughty of the Kings after Dustin Brown went knee-on-knee to Tomas Hertl? Did you see any Shark get riled up, as opposed to getting beat up, during that game? You were in some alternate universe. In this one the Sharks did not fight back, and could not even score on the power play that resulted from the major penalty to Brown. The Sharks have a real disadvantage in a league where star players are expected to lead the team through tough games, with a physical presence when needed.

None of this is new. The book on the Sharks is as it's been when Ron Wilson was coach: have your big guys hit them hard whenever you can and they'll slowly give up. Joe Thornton isn't part of the solution to that problem; he makes it more glaringly obvious. A playoff series against Los Angeles, Chicago, or Anaheim; who all have big guys that can skate and don't mind a physical game, won't be pretty except pretty short.

General Manager Doug Wilson has tried to keep Thornton supplied with trigger-happy wingers, the latest pairing of Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl could be the best. Both are creative players able to get open near the net and they normally don't overskate or fall behind Joe in the offensive zone. That helps Joe Thornton the scorer stay near the top of the league in assists. But will Joe Thornton be the Sharks' captain who lifts the Stanley Cup off the table in front of Gary Bettman some June?

After eight years I'm not convinced.



Contact Ken at at kensmyth@letsgosharks.com


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