What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago the Sharks were flailing in the midst of a horrific losing streak. No matter what Coach Ron Wilson or the players tried, nothing seemed to work. The pressure was becoming unbearable for those in the San Jose locker room. Even more frustrating was the fact that the vast majority of the losses were by the slimmest of margins.
Things reached the level of the surreal Wednesday night in Dallas. Just prior to the game, three key Sharks players were inexplicably pulled from the lineup. Obviously a trade was in the works.
When word was finally released that the Sharks had acquired center Joe Thornton
from the Bruins shock began to set in. Could it be true? Had the Sharks just picked up one of the most dominant offensive players in the entire NHL. Not only that, a force who had just turned 26 years old this past July?
Most hockey fans know what Joe Thornton
brings to the party. He’s a big strong centerman who see the ice extremely well. He has incredibly soft hands and is an excellent passer. His reach is perhaps the biggest in the league. He has a quiet, calm confidence. And as the Bruins’ team captain he is not uncomfortable with being a leader.
In his first shift as a San Jose Shark, Thornton won the face-off, made a soft circle back to support the puck, took a pass in the neutral zone, and proceeded to rattle a shot off the right goal post.
Just was the doctor ordered! He would chip in two beautiful assists and help lead the Sharks to their first win in nearly a month. 24 hours later Super Joe would again be a big part of the Sharks 5-4 win in front of the hockey royalty in Toronto.
But beyond his ability on the ice, the mere presence of Joe Thornton
in a Sharks uniform makes this team better. Patrick Marleau
, selected just behind Super Joe in the ’97 draft, has exploded for six points in the last two games. Competition is never a bad thing. Patrick has been compared to Thornton since they played together for Canada’s under 17’s nearly a decade ago. I’m sure Patrick wants to put the hockey world on notice that he is every bit the player Joe is.
Opposing teams now must be ringing their hands on how to stop two dominant forwards. Before it was: “Keep Marleau off the score sheet.” Now enemy coaches have two big dogs to worry about.
Even more to the Sharks advantage are the fact that stylistically Joe and Patty are quite different players. Marleau is speed, power and strength. Patrick is a sniper and his wicked shot can find twine from nearly anywhere in the offensive zone.
Thornton is a player who finds quiet ice. He is remarkably calm with the puck, sees his teammates and can thread a pass as well as anyone in hockey. Behind the net, he’s near Gretzky-like in his ability to control the puck and find his man out front in scoring territory.
Friday in Buffalo Thronton twice got Jonathan Cheechoo the puck in tight quarters. The result: two Cheech markers. Joe definitely makes those around him better players.
Make no mistake, the Sharks had to part with excellent three players who helped define ‘Sharks Hockey’. Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau will always have a place in the hearts of South Bay fans. But picking up Thronton is the equivalent to the San Francisco Giants adding Manny Ramirez to their lineup. He’s a big time player.
The Sharks’ powerplay should now become one of the more feared in the entire NHL. Down a goal in the waning moments? Ron Wilson can know his team will threaten as he sends Marleau AND Thornton over the boards.
Another intangible benefit to the deal is the Sharks young players now have another role model as they look across the room.
But maybe best of all … hope is back in San Jose.”
For Seagate Technology’s In The Crease, I’m Frank Albin.