Today marks the first day he met his new Sharks teammates five years ago and tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of his first game with the Sharks. If you recall, he posted two assists in that game on Dec. 2, 2005 at Buffalo.
This may be the 20th anniversary season for the Sharks, but it’s the fifth anniversary season with Thornton and he’s made quite an impression in one-quarter of the franchise’s history. During his five- year run in teal, some truly amazing numbers tell the tale. Thornton is third in the League in points (122 goals, 378 assists in 404 games) behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby since his acquisition.
His effect on the entire team is shown in the club’s 67.2 points percentage (251-110-48) that trails only Detroit in that period. Indeed, over the last five years, Thornton’s influence has been felt with the Sharks.
“It’s great to have an elite level player like Joe Thornton
with 500 points in five years,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson said. “I still feel like he’s coming into his prime, but if you take a look at what he has accomplished in his career with the World Juniors, the World Cup and the Olympic gold medal, he’s certainly one of the top players in this game. He has grown as a player and as a person.”
As for his playmaking abilities, who wouldn’t want to play on his line? Four teammates have scored 30-plus goals when they’ve played a good portion of a season on his line (Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau
, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley). In fact, the Sharks have had 12 players in their history score 30 or more goals in a season and eight of those have occurred since Thornton joined the team. Marleau, Cheechoo, Setoguchi and Milan Michalek all set single-season highs in goals when they’ve played with “Jumbo.”
“He’s a guy that’s always looking for ways to make other people be successful and there are a lot of guys that have done very well playing with him,” Wilson said. “There are still times that we would like him to be a little more selfish and shoot the puck a little bit more, but he knows we feel that way and he’s trying to make a difference in that area.”
Wilson points to Thornton’s focus on continually improving his game as a key factor in why “Jumbo” stays among the NHL’s elite as he’s entered his 30s.
“He’s one of the great players of this game, but also one of the great people who truly loves the game of hockey,” Wilson said. “As a player gets to a certain point in his career, he looks for ways to improve his game. I think that’s what top players in this game do. You continue to learn and push yourself. I think he has done that the last couple of years. He’s trying to add things to his game and play how Todd (Head Coach McLellan) wants him and our group to play. I think he’s playing all three zones of the ice in a way that top players in this game do.
“Joe is a player that kills penalties and takes key faceoffs,” Wilson added. “He understands the importance of playing all three zones and committing to it. A lot of the focus is on him and a lot of other team’s game plans is to stop him.”
One of Wilson’s favorite attributes about his captain is how much Thornton loves the game. The National Hockey League is not as much of a paycheck for Thornton, but rather a passion that shows every day.
“He cares about the other guys in the room in the way that he wants to be around them,” Wilson said. “We use the term ‘hockey rat’ and he is one. He hates to take a practice off even if he’s got a nagging injury. He likes being at the rink, he likes being around the rink and I think that’s contagious. He loves the game of hockey and he loves to compete. His honest passion for the game is something that he certainly shows to his teammates.”
He showed his teammates how much he cares for them and how much he cares about winning at the beginning of the season when he signed yet another contract extension with the Sharks. The $7 million a year deal wasn’t close to top dollar for the talented center, but it was the right number to ensure that other talented players like Marleau, Heatley, Dan Boyle
, Douglas Murray
and Joe Pavelski
could be signed for a fair number and keep the nucleus together.
Thornton spoke with more than his words and his play when he made that commitment to his teammates.
“It’s about wanting to be in a place where we can keep a very good group of players around,” Wilson said. “He’s all about the team and it’s not just lip service. It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to do it and he doesn’t do anything or expect anything from his teammates other than what he would be willing to do. I think that says a lot about him.”
Thornton is a locker room leader, not just because he wears the “C,” but because his teammates are inclined to follow him. His strong personality is on display for everyone and he treats a rookie on the club with as much respect as he does a friend and fellow Olympian.
Much like an NFL quarterback, Thornton knows the man wearing the “C” faces the questions that come with wins and losses, whether or not he’s at fault. But that’s a responsibility he doesn’t shy away from.
“The thing that I tremendously respect about Joe is that he welcomes the challenge,” Wilson said. “He welcomed the challenge of being a dominant player in this league, of being a focal point of this hockey team and of representing his country. He welcomes that challenge (of winning the Stanley Cup). It is a team that will accomplish that, not just one or two players, but the spotlight will go on him because he is a great player and he accepts that.”
For all the things Thornton has accomplished on the ice, he has proven to be fully vested in his team and in the city he calls home as well.
“He’s all in. He’s committed to us and he has done everything we’ve asked him to do as far as being involved in this community and this organization,” Wilson said. “We are very fortunate to have him with this organization and we look forward to the next phase of his career. He has made this his home and we are very proud of the commitment he has made to this organization.”
A commitment that will let Sharks fans enjoy his skill for at least three more seasons beyond this one.
Currently, Thornton is sixth amongst active players in career assists (663) which places him 57th all-time. He’s also ninth amongst active players in total career points (954), which is 84th most by any player in League history.
Since he began his career in 1997, only Jaromir Jagr has more points and Thornton is just 12 points away from tying that mark.
His streak of seven consecutive 20-goal and 50-assist seasons are the longest for any player since Steve Yzerman and Doug Gilmour posted eight consecutive from 1986-87 to 1993-94
His 10 consecutive seasons of 20-plus goals is the second longest active streak in the League next to Jarome Iginla's 11.
San Jose will visit Ottawa Thursday at 4:30 p.m. and the game will be a return to Ottawa for Dany Heatley. The contest will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.