SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton has achieved plenty during his 18-year NHL career, including a Hart Trophy in 2005-06 when he led the league in scoring in what was his first half-season with the Sharks.
Ten years later, the 36-year-old may even deserve consideration for the league MVP award once again. Headed into Monday night’s games, he leads the Sharks and is eighth in the NHL in scoring with 70 points, is tied for second with 53 assists, and tied for fifth with a plus-28 rating.
Considering the late stage he’s at in his career, it’s been a remarkable campaign.
Still, it may be a stretch to suggest that Thornton could realistically be a Hart Trophy finalist as one of three best players in the NHL. Patrick Kane is the heavy favorite to win it this year, while Alex Ovechkin is pushing for 50 goals, among others.
Thornton should garner some consideration for another award for the first time in his career, though. The Selke Trophy is awarded to the NHL’s best defensive forward, or, in unofficial terms, the best two-way forward.
Some advanced stats provide further insight to Thornton’s production, including some shot attempt (Corsi) metrics. He’s seventh in the league in relative Corsi percentage, for example, which is impressive in that the Sharks have been one of the better teams in the league. Surrounding him in that category are perennial Selke candidates Patrice Bergeron (second) and Pavel Datsyuk (eighth).
Perhaps the most revealing stat, though, is Thornton’s goals-for percentage is 72.8 percent, which is tops in the league among players that have played at least 300 minutes according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com (linemate Joe Pavelski is second, at 69.4 percent).
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer is on board with the Selke suggestion when it comes to his top line center.
"Yeah, this guy plays as hard coming back into our end as he does going offensively,” coach Pete DeBoer said on Sunday. “Unless you watch him closely, you don't realize that. He's got tremendous respect from the guys on the team, the coaching staff, for how hard he works away from the puck. Never mind the points he puts up."
CSN Sharks analyst Bret Hedican has been watching Thornton during his seven years in the Bay Area, and played against the future Hall of Famer before that. He’s seen Thornton’s defensive game evolve over the years.
“It seems like he has committed more and more to the defensive side of the puck and being more of a guy that you can rely upon in every situation,” Hedican said.
“He makes a great pass no matter if he’s in the offensive zone or the defensive zone. He is a guy that can make the play. He does it under pressure, but he makes it look so simple and so smooth. For him not to be in the Selke conversation would be a head-scratcher, because I see every team in the league.”
Thornton’s importance to the Sharks has never been greater, either. In the last 28 San Jose wins, he’s recorded at least one point in all of them. That’s the longest streak since Dany Heatley had at least one point in 35 straight Senators wins in 2005-06.
“That’s the first I’ve known that,” Thornton deadpanned after Sunday’s game with his trademark grin, making one question his sincerity. “Hopefully keep it going, I guess.”
Of course, of much more importance to Thornton than any individual award would be his first career Stanley Cup. He’s been on a few lengthy playoff runs in San Jose, including back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, and has said more than once that he believes this version of the Sharks is the deepest team he’s ever been on.
“That's very fair. Any line can score. Any line is dangerous,” Thornton said. “Pete does a good job of just rolling lines, too. There’s no [line] matching, just go out and play. I think guys get in rhythms that way. … We’re a very, very deep team right now.”
Thornton, though, is still the head of the snake – on both ends of the ice.
“He’s made that commitment because he wants to win a Stanley Cup,” Hedican said. “He knows that in order to win a Stanley Cup, he has to be a three-zone player. He’s elite in all three zones.”