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Behind The Numbers

Jumbo Joe keeps putting up big numbers for Sharks

Decade after best season, Thornton remains among top scorers

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton may be 36 years old but he remains one of the NHL's most dominant offensive players.

With at least one point in 32 of his past 40 games, Thornton leads the NHL with 51 points since Dec. 15. During that three-month run, he has helped San Jose go 25-10-5, third-best in the League during that period. In doing so, the Sharks have joined a tight race with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead.

Thornton has 67 points in 69 games this season, No. 8 in the NHL and No. 1 among the Sharks.

He leads San Jose with 51 assists, 13 more than defenseman Brent Burns, and entering games Wednesday was tied with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for second in the NHL. Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson leads the League with 60.

Video: WSH@SJS: Thornton stuffs Dillon's shot home

Thornton's scoring success is somewhat reminiscent of the season he had when he was traded to the Sharks from the Boston Bruins on Dec. 1, 2005, for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. 

That season, Thornton led the NHL with 96 assists, 125 points, and won the Hart Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player. 

It's not easy to compare the seasons statistically because many enhanced statistics were not available in 2005-06, but it's possible to measure how much scoring talent Thornton has retained during the past decade. 

At age 26, Thornton scored 72 even-strength points in 1,125 minutes and 21 seconds, a scoring rate of 3.84 points per 60 minutes. This season, Thornton is scoring 2.71 points per 60 minutes, which is a bit more than 70 percent of that peak season. 

Video: SJS@STL: Thornton beats Allen with a backhanded shot

The intervening nine seasons were filled with scoring achievements for Thornton, especially in regard to his playmaking. 

Thornton led the NHL in assists in his first two full seasons in San Jose, in 2007-08 becoming the third player in history to lead the NHL in assists for three consecutive seasons. Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins was the first in 1971-72, followed by Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers in 1981-82. 

Thornton ranks 15th all-time with 952 assists and leads the NHL with 691 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season. In that time, he has scored 905 points, which ranks third behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who has 958 points in 827 games, and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has 923 points in 695 games. 

Thornton is tied with Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired after the 2011-12 season, for fifth with a plus-173 plus/minus rating. Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings leads the NHL with a plus-230 in 732 games since 2005-06. 

Video: SJS@STL: Thornton capitalizes from perfect passing

Plus, Thornton displays tremendous durability, missing 10 games since 2005. He leads the NHL with 845 games played since then. 

If he leads San Jose in scoring, it will be the 10th time Thornton has led a team in scoring (Sharks, six times; Bruins, three times). This also is his 10th season with at least 50 assists. He has 12 seasons with at least 49 assists, a feat accomplished by nine other players in NHL history. 

Statistically, Thornton's achievements go beyond his impressive scoring totals. His career plus-198 ranks fifth among active players, and his plus-24 this season ranks seventh in the NHL. 

Though the plus/minus statistic has its flaws and limitations, these particular results can be reinforced by his shot-based, puck-possession numbers. This season, the Sharks have taken 945 shot attempts with Thornton on the ice, allowing 750. His plus-195 shot attempt differential ranks 18th in the NHL. 

Even when using a variation of this statistic that takes a team's strength into account, Thornton continues to shine. He and linemate Tomas Hertl are tied for ninth in the NHL with an SAT Rel of 6.5 percent. This is calculated as the percentage of all shot attempts the Sharks take when Thornton is on the ice (55.8 percent) relative to when he's not (49.3 percent) to more accurately estimate the advantage a player provides his team. 

The only item missing from Thornton's long list of achievements is a Stanley Cup. Despite qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs all nine seasons with the Sharks and in five of seven seasons with the Bruins, and scoring 100 points in 132 playoff games, which ranks 13th among active players, Thornton has never competed in the Stanley Cup Final. 

He came closest in 2011, when Thornton led San Jose with 17 points in 18 games but the Sharks were eliminated in the Western Conference Final by the Vancouver Canucks in five games. 

The consensus of a variety of statistical models is that San Jose has a 6 percent chance of winning the Cup this season, but that number is climbing. If Thornton and the Sharks remain hot, then the 2016 Stanley Cup could be the crowning achievement of an incredible career.

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