Joe Thornton is, without a doubt, one of the 100 best players to ever lace ‘em up in the National Hockey League. His exclusion from the NHL 100 on Friday night doesn’t diminish his greatness; it only further perpetuates what we already know: the league is incompetent.
It’s easy to be angry about Thornton’s exclusion, and I was at first, I found myself experiencing a different emotion as the all stars were announced on Sunday afternoon: sadness. Jeff Carter’s toothless grin went from ear to ear as he skated down the line of some of the greatest NHL players of all time. Who could blame him? It’s a moment he’ll never forget.
Thornton didn’t deserve an all-star nod this year, really, but it would have been nice to see him in L.A. to take part in a celebration of California hockey. That’s something he’s played a big hand in cultivating since his trade to San Jose so many years ago. His exuberance on the ice has turned countless casual fans into lifers in the Bay Area and I think Kings fans will admit hating Thornton helped make them better L.A. fans, too.
I don’t need to go through the numbers to prove Thornton belongs, but I’m going to anyway. He’s 24th in points, 13th in assists, 31st in games played, 25th in assists per game and won the Hart. The dude has more than 1,000 points and will get to more than 1,000 assists in his career. His hockey-reference.com similarity score has him matched up with NHL 100 member Marcel Dionne for Christ’s sake. They put Jonathan Toews ahead of him for Christ’s sakes. This shouldn’t even be a discussion!
And yet here we are. The lack of a Stanley Cup hurts Thornton, I’m sure, because the NHL doesn’t believe in its own rhetoric. The “ultimate team sport” is resigned to judging individual players based on how many championships they’ve won. It’s perfect.
So Thornton misses out on a chance to get his due alongside players of his ilk in front of fans who, in fairness, would have booed him mercilessly. And that’s just the way he would have liked it. There’s no bias against the Sharks (note Evgeni Malkin also didn’t make the 100 and should have); though there’s an argument to be made for the favorable treatment Chicago got in the selection process, but Thornton continues to be undervalued in the league.
I hope that won’t be the case when Hall of Fame voting comes around. Thornton is a mortal lock to make the Hall; of course there are many more than 100 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That will be a nice feather in his cap, but frankly I’ve done my best to distance myself from worrying about that kind of award because we’ve seen players like Thornton and Patrick Marleau passed over for them so frequently. Wake me up when they raise their jersey’s to the rafters.