Amidst the panic of a not-so-terrific year on the scoresheet for Joe Thornton, it’s important to note we took him for granted last year. Jumbo was a point-a-game player in the 2015-16 season, a feat so remarkable for a 36 year old that we just about didn’t make note of it at all. Perhaps that’s why this year stings the way it does.
“Won’t Thornton keep producing this way forever,” you might have asked yourself at the beginning of this campaign. Well... no, because he hadn’t been a point-a-game player for years prior to his unbelievable 2016 season. What we’re seeing this year is reasonable for a 37-year-old center. Our expectations? Those weren’t so reasonable.
The above graphic, from corsica.hockey, shows Thornton’s 25-game rolling average of primary points per 60 minutes since 2007. Which one of those years looks like an aberration to you? Hint: Last year. This year features a decline, which you’d expect for a player in his 19th NHL season.
Put another way, check out the same stat (this time at even strength) for each season since 2007. You’ll notice the decline is more pronounced because, you know, players tend to get worse with age. This drives home, at least to me, that while Thornton went on a great hot streak last season, he didn’t find some sort of miracle elixir.
I get it; I’m not breaking new ground by saying Thornton isn’t play as well this year. The Sharks need him to play well for a deep playoff run. The good news is he’s still playing well enough at even strength for them to do that. The power play is where his age is catching up to him the most by my estimation and, frankly, I don’t think special teams will pose much of a problem in the postseason (you know, the time of year where the referees don’t call penalties).
In an admittedly small sample size (62.43 minutes), the Jannik Hansen - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski line has the second-best goals-for per 60 minute numbers of any San Jose line this season. The only line better is the Logan Couture - Joonas Donskoi - Kevin Labanc unit (maybe it’s time to get those guys back together?)
Assuming Hansen comes back healthy shortly, Thornton’s decline has been mitigated in the short term. With his contract expiring, Doug Wilson has an unpleasant task ahead of him this offseason. When Pierre LeBrun first reported Thornton wanted a three-year deal back in January I was optimistic about the idea with the hope a smaller salary would come with it. The longer the season has gone on, the more I’ve soured on the idea.
I’d be surprised to see Wilson give Jumbo or Patrick Marleau deals longer than two years. Remember, Las Vegas has a window to negotiate with unrestricted free agents before the expansion draft. If the Golden Knights sign one of the Sharks’ UFAs, they can not draft a player from San Jose’s roster. Keep that in mind as the draft looms this summer.
For now, the Sharks have bigger fish to fry: getting the most they can out of Thornton as the playoffs approach. For my money, that’s why Wilson paid what he did to get Hansen. Now he’s hoping to get the team healthy in time to make it all worth it.