2011-12 San Jose Sharks Player Grades: Joe Thornton
Regardless of my own opinion to keep Wilson and fire McLellan, it is likely the team will keep both. That may well be the right decision...the failings of last season are on the players, not the coach.
Any player grade or true analysis of a player's worth to the team has to start with identifying their assets and liabilities. Those are covered in the first two slides.
The third will examine the ugly truth: Should they stay?
Right now there can be no contract talks between players and teams. Rather than speculate about the player's market value for either trades or free agency, management must figure out how high a return they should get in order to improve before they replace that player.
In other words, what NHL player would they need at minimum to improve on the departed player?
I start with captain Joe Thornton...
Besides finishing fourth in takeaways, Joe Thornton was also 11th in the league in the faceoff circle and was in a virtual tie for the team lead among forwards in ice time. He played in all 82 games and finished second on the team at plus-17 while collecting fewer penalty minutes than all but four of his fellow forwards.
His size and puck control makes him among the most ideal playmakers to have on the ice when the puck is in the attacking zone. Predictably, Joe was third in the NHL in assists and 12th in points.
He was as consistent as anyone on the team, making him frequently the team's best asset on both ends of the ice. This continued in the playoffs.
As captain, Joe Thornton has taken a lot of the blame for the poor playoff showings of the San Jose Sharks since his arrival in November of 2005. He has neither done enough to discredit nor substantiate that point of view.
Thornton has never scored more than a point per playoff game, but also has never fallen more than three points short of that for the entire playoffs. He has 69 points in 79 games with a minus-16 rating, but he has been called upon to play a lot of defence over his seven playoffs.
In the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, he was one of only six players with a goal. No one did better than Joe's two goals, three assists or plus-two rating.
Joe Thornton slows the San Jose Sharks attack by pulling up along the halfboards too often. He also looks for the pass when he should shoot, leading to too many giveaways (95, tied for second most in the NHL).
That being said, he still has the team's fourth-best assist-to-giveaway ratio (.62). He was also fourth in goals.
Thus his biggest problem is that, for all his increased defensive focus, he is not doing all he could be in his own end. The same size he uses in the offensive end needs to be used in two ways.
He was just ninth among Sharks forwards in blocked shots and was 21st in hits on a team that was the fourth-lightest hitting in the NHL. That is why four other forwards finished with a higher sum of the three main defensive indicators (takeaways, blocks and hits) than Thornton did (164).
The Ugly Truth
Joe Thornton also has ultimately failed to move this team forward in the two years as captain, falling back to the second and then seventh seed and dropping by four and then 329 percentage points in the playoffs. In neither year did their playoff success match expectations.
Most of that is not his fault, but does not reflect well on him either. He often appears to lack intensity unless something on the ice sparks him. On a team that plays without an edge, a great leader would provide more of it than Joe does.
But even whether the San Jose Sharks may do better with someone else as captain is debatable. The team's playoff record over his tenure (10-12) is comparable to the previous two captains' (8-7 under Rob Blake and 30-28 under Patrick Marleau) and the team has only gotten one game deeper in franchise history.
Finding a player better than Joe would be difficult. Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and maybe the Sedin brothers are the only forwards in the world better on both ends of the ice.
If the Sharks feel they need more players with an edge, they are not going to find that in the Sedins. Malkin's cap hit is $1.7 million more than Thornton's, and only Giroux's cap hit is not within $1 million of Joe's.
Thus, San Jose is unlikely to be able to upgrade appreciably in production or value from their best forward. Therefore, he should remain with the Sharks unless they can get better value than expected.
A player with that value in the regular season who was his team's best postseason player has to earn at least an A-.