It’s been two years since Joe Thornton took over the role of Captain here in San Jose. Despite his success as a player, there are cynics out there who believe that “Jumbo” Joe doesn’t have the leadership ability to command his team, criticizing his fun loving and easy going attitude. I’m here to take a firm stance by saying Joe Thornton has fully earned his Captain title both on and off the ice.
In 2005 General Manager Doug Wilson made quite possibly the best trade in Shark’s franchise history, acquiring center Joe Thornton in exchange for defenseman Brad Stuart and centers Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. A quick google search on the success of those three players will show just how good of a move this was for the Sharks. Since coming to San Jose Thornton has lead his team in scoring five of his last seven seasons, had the best +/- rating four of the last seven, and it almost goes without saying that he has absolutely dominated the rest of the team in assists. Thornton also has the best points per game average both in the regular season and in the playoffs than any other player on the current roster, 1.14 PPG and .87 PPG respectively. His closest competition offensively is Patrick Marleau, who has posted 121 less points than Thornton over the past seven seasons, and that’s not counting the 33 points he had in Boston prior to coming to San Jose. Combined with the 92 points he had after joining the Sharks, his 125 point performance earned him The Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy in 2006. In fact, no player has been able to better Thornton’s 125 points in the last seven years, and it remains the highest point total since Jaromir Jagr’s 127 point performance in 1999.
So obviously Joe is the Shark’s most efficient scorer, but what about the rest of his game? Well last season he finished 4th in the league in takeaways and 11th in the face-off circle. He also had the 4th best assist-to-giveaway ratio on his team, which is not bad considering the large amount of dangerous passes he always attempts. What’s most impressive though are his Corsi numbers. For those who don’t know, Corsi is a statistic that measures the differential between total shots attempted by a player’s team and the opposing team while that player is on the ice. Think of it as a more advanced version of a +/- rating, aiming to measure the offensive dominance a team exhibits when aided by specific players. Thornton lead the Sharks this season both in on ice Corsi and relative Corsi, which is the comparison of a players Corsi rating and the team’s overall Corsi without that player. I know this may be confusing, but basically Thornton’s team leading 14.9 relative Corsi rating means that every 60 minutes of 5v5 play with Thornton on the ice, the Sharks will put 15 more shots on net than their opponent. I’m sorry if that makes your head hurt, but my point is that the Sharks are a far a better team both offensively and defensively when Joe is playing.
As far as leadership is concerned, I believe Joe Thornton excels in that area too. In my opinion he has the most colorful personality on the team, and undoubtedly has the respect of everyone on the roster. Players are much more likely to take guidance from a player that they enjoy having in the locker room and look up to, rather than an arrogant overbearing hot head. His easy-going attitude also allows him to build rapport with officials when discussing a call, instead of getting in their face and potentially hurting his team further. Some people say Thornton lacks the intensity necessary to be an effective captain, but if you watched as many games as I did last season you’d know that there were plenty of times Jumbo Joe was more than fired up in the heat of a game. How about when he dropped the gloves and handed an absolute ass beating to Drew Doughty in April? You can rest assured that display of passion ignited his team on their way to a 6-5 victory over the Kings, and secured their spot in the playoffs. Besides, who would you rather have leading your team down the field in the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter, hot headed Ben Roethlisberger or cool calm and collected Tom Brady? I sincerely apologize to any Canadian readers for that “American” football reference
Some people may look at Thornton’s steady decline in point production over the last 3-4 seasons and think he has passed his prime, and at age 33 no longer capable of producing the numbers we saw from him earlier in his career. Well actually the NHL is full of examples of veteran players who have excelled in older age. For example Thornton has averaged 94 points per season over the last seven years, so at 33 years of age will we see improvement or decline in his numbers? Well Martin St.Louis at age 34 went into the 2009-2010 season with a prior 7 year average of 76 points per season. He then made a 14 point improvement from his previous season scoring 94 points, which was 19 points better than his 7 year average. In 2006-2007 at the age of 34 Ray Whitney scored 83 points, 21 points higher than his 7 year average and 26 points higher than his previous season total. Teemu Selanne did the same thing at age 35, scoring 58 more points than his previous season and 20 points more than his prior 7 year average. Now every player is different, but my point is that there are more than enough examples of players improving their point production at an older age. So there’s no reason why we can’t see Thornton score 90+ points next season, and continue to do so in future years.
Now I’m not saying Joe Thornton is perfect; he surely could improve in some areas such as blocked shots, giveaways and hits. It can also be frustrating to see him slow down the Shark’s attack by pulling up along the boards, and sometimes you just want to tattoo “SHOOT” on his forehead so he sees it every time he looks in the mirror. And yes it couldn’t hurt for him to wipe that trademark smile off his face every now and then and show more ferocity in his game. But for the most part Jumbo Joe is the Shark’s best player, and has earned every right to wear the coveted “C” on his sweater. He is a beloved leader both on and off the ice, and is the Sharks best candidate for captain. I look forward to watching him lead my team this season.