Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Sharks insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Joe Thornton, C
Salary cap hit: $6.75 million, pending UFA
2015-16 year in review: After the unpleasantness of 2014-15 in which he had the ‘C’ stripped from his sweater and there was friction with coach Todd McLellan, Joe Thornton had one of the more remarkable seasons in a career that will eventually land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Despite turning 36 before the season began, Thornton didn’t miss a single regular season or playoff game, and his 82 points led the Sharks and was tied for fourth in the NHL. Only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson had more assists than Thornton’s 63. He was named as the Sharks’ most valuable player by the local media, and finished in fifth place for both the Hart and Selke Trophies.
Thornton’s second half was particularly strong. After he had just 16 points through the first 29 games of the season (due perhaps in part to a pair of significant hits to the head), Thornton had 66 points after Dec. 15, tied with Sidney Crosby for most in the league.
In the playoffs the alternate captain posted 21 points in 24 games (3g, 18a), but struggled in his first-ever Stanley Cup Final with three assists and a minus-4 rating in the six-game defeat.
2016-17 outlook: While 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr tends to get most of the attention when it comes to producing at an advanced age, Thornton should be right in that discussion, too, as he is nearly five years older than anyone else who finished in the NHL’s top 20 in scoring last season. In fact, the player closest in age to him was linemate Joe Pavelski, who just turned 32.
The former and now alternate captain also benefited from new coach Pete DeBoer. Thornton embraced DeBoer’s aggressive forechecking approach, telling him in their first preseason meeting that it was exactly the way he wanted to play. “I was prepared to have to try and sell it to him, and it wasn’t a sell at all,” DeBoer said in April.
The extra days off between games from DeBoer were beneficial, too, and Thornton was quick to point that out throughout the second half of the season and deep into the playoffs. He felt fresh, and it showed. That will be something to monitor again, especially with Thornton competing for Team Canada now in the World Cup.
Thornton will obviously remain the top line center for this year’s Sharks team, with Joe Pavelski to his right and a TBD left wing. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent, but there’s probably no rush to get him signed to a new deal, as the rift with general manager Doug Wilson seems to have been repaired and there’s no reason to think Thornton wants to play anywhere else. In fact, the Sharks could potentially wait to extend Thornton until after the expansion draft, so they have the ability to protect an extra forward.
The bottom line with Thornton is this – enjoy watching him play while you still can.