Why the San Jose Sharks Are Finally More Than Just Joe Thornton
In just about two weeks the anniversary of the blockbuster trade that brought the then Boston Bruin Joe Thornton to San Jose will pass us by.
It will mark the fourth full year in which Thornton has been a member of team teal. Now despite his knack for staying healthy, (hasn't missed a game as a Shark) Thornton suffering an injury has been what the San Jose faithful have dreaded for the majority of those four years.
Prior to this season, it was quite common to hear fans in the Bay Area claim "the Sharks are good but they are screwed if Thornton gets hurt."
And those fans spoke the truth. If the seemingly unbreakable Joe Thornton were to have suffered a lengthy injury, San Jose would have been a playoff bubble team at best.
However, you won't hear a single Sharks fan making that claim this season. Losing Joe Thornton would be a significant loss if the former Hart Trophy winner went down with injury, but it wouldn't be catastrophic.
In fact, even without "Jumbo Joe," the Sharks probably end up fighting for a top-five playoff spot in the West.
The Sharks finally have a well-rounded team that can easily adapt on the fly.
First and foremost for the new team aspect of the Sharks is the addition of superstar Dany Heatley.
The two-time 50 goal scorer averages more than a point per game for his career and has been everything as advertised when the Sharks acquired him this past offseason.
In 22 games this season, Heatley has tallied 14 goals and 23 points, helping lead San Jose to the best record in the NHL.
However, Heatley's acquisition isn't even half of the reason why this year's Sharks team doesn't have to rely on Thornton.
What actually makes the Sharks so much more of an all-around hockey club is their depth throughout the lineup. And that depth begins with the emergence of Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi.
It was only just two years ago during the 2007-08 season where Pavelski and Setoguchi were both new kids on the block. Pavelski was in his second year, (first full season) and Setoguchi was a rookie.
Both forwards combined for just 57 points that year and the Sharks were bounced from the playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals by the Dallas Stars.
Last season Pavelski and Setoguchi combined for 124 points. Now injuries are going to limit both players to less than a full season this year, but adjusting their current paces to a full season of play, the now veteran forwards are once again on fire.
Pavelski is on pace for a 95 point season over 82 games, and Setoguchi is on pace for 58 points. Simply doing the adding, the duo is on pace for 153 points (again, if they could play in 82 games).
The performance of these forwards begs the following question: If you're the opposing team, who are you going to stop?
Take away Joe Thornton, and you have to deal with Dany Heatley, take away Heatley, deal with Patrick Marleau, take away Marleau, deal with Ryane Clowe etc.
However, along with the aforementioned Pavelski and Setoguchi, those forwards are merely the top-six for San Jose. Unlike years past, they don't account for all the Sharks' scoring.
Energy guys on the third and fourth lines like Manny Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer, and Jamie McGinn have chipped in more than enough offense considering their main jobs involve simply bringing energy and playing solid defensively.
When an opponent's top defensemen are busy defending the Sharks' powerful scoring threats, the energy lines for San Jose typically have lots of room to grind out shifts along the boards in the offensive zone.
Each line the Sharks throw out this season can bring the intensity, and they all usually hold the puck in the offensive zone much longer than they have to spend defending it in their own zone.
Unfortunately, it wasn't always that way. During recent seasons the Sharks were primarily a three-line team, especially in the playoffs.
Jody Shelley and his mix and match group on the fourth line was seldom used over the past few years, but San Jose finally has the depth to roll all four lines much more fluidly.
But not only do the Sharks have depth in their starting lineup, they have talented players waiting to crack the lineup. Along with the injured Torrey Mitchell, there are a bunch of other talented forwards who have made significant contributions even though they currently aren't in the lineup.
Depth-wise, Sharks forwards 13-18 have chipped in with 14 points this season. Ryan Vesce, Benn Ferriero, Jody Shelley, Logan Couture, and Frazer McLaren have combined for 14 points, almost three each on average. Fourteen points from that group speaks volumes about the contributions throughout the entire roster.
In terms of players stepping up due to injury, it has been none other than Vesce making the biggest impact. With Pavelski hurt and Setoguchi dropped down to the second line, Vesce scored in three straight games playing on the top line.
No matter who goes down with injury, the Sharks have been well-suited to take the blow in stride and keep putting forth quality effort after quality effort.
Therefore, even if the "Big Cup of Joe" were to miss a stretch of games, this Sharks team could actually fare well without him if needed.
The most telling sign of this is that Thornton has only had the primary assist on two of Heatley's 14 goals so far this season, and just on six total.
Dan Boyle on the other hand has had the primary assist on four Heatley tallies and seven in total.
Healtey's ability to find the open spot on the ice has even made rookie defenseman Jason Demers look like a Dan Boyle clone when he tipped in a sweet pass from Demers in the game against Colorado.
Simply put, it doesn't matter who is passing to the Shark sniper, he is going to score his goals.
But to be fair, it is the regular season and we have seen this type of domination from the Sharks before. However, the ability to spread the wealth this season has not been seen since Thornton's arrival.
So far this year a stronger team vibe has been evident on the ice. Whether that is truly the case or not, well, we as outsiders can only speculate.
But with contributions coming from every single player reporters can find in the Sharks locker room, and even some down at the Sharks AHL affiliate in Worcester, this San Jose team feels different.
That new vibe is why a significant portion of both fans and experts believe this might finally be the year where the Sharks break through for extended playoff success.
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