Joe Thornton is Missing Only a Cup to Top Off His Hall of Fame Career
He stands 6-foot-4, weighs 220 pounds and is one of only 11 players in National Hockey League history to score 400 goals and dish out 1,000 assists.
A playmaking center who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997, Joe Thornton has notched 1,461 points (410 goals) in 1,544 regular season games over 21 seasons. Yet for some reason Jumbo Joe has seemingly skated under the radar throughout his long journey to the Hall of Fame.
Thornton, 39, played his first 532 games in the NHL in a Bruins’ sweater, tallying 454 points (169 goals), before being dealt to the San Jose Sharks on November 30, 2005 for forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau, along with defenseman Brad Stuart.
This deal was bad from the get-go for the Bruins. Thornton would go on to lead the league in scoring in 2005-06 with 125 points (Thornton had 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks) while becoming the only player in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy (MVP) while playing for two teams the season he won the award.
You can tell a player’s greatness by the company he keeps in the record book. The other NHLers in the 400-1,000 club include Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Ray Bourque. That’s pretty impressive company indeed.
Thornton, one of only 13 players with 1,000 career assists, is 15th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. He is only seven points shy of moving past former Chicago Blackhawks great Stan Mikita (1,467). But Thornton’s name doesn’t resonate with fans like most players with his statistical resume.
Maybe it’s because Thornton plays in San Jose. Maybe it’s because he’s a team guy, who is content to pile up assists/points without much fanfare. Maybe it’s because Thornton has yet to sip the sweet taste of victory from the Stanley Cup -- the world’s largest champagne chalice.
Whatever the case, the feeling here is Thornton is one of the most underrated NHL superstars of his generation.
The fresh-faced 18-year-old who tallied seven points (3 goals) in 55 games as a rookie with the Bruins during the 1997-98 campaign has plenty of gray in his beard these days. Despite being hampered by knee issues in recent seasons, Thornton is still contributing as a third line center on a Sharks club that headed into Tuesday’s games with the second most points in the Western Conference (78 points, 35-17-8).
Thornton no longer produces points in bunches. But he’s still a productive player. He tallied his first hat trick since October 27, 2010 in San Jose’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Bruins on Monday.
Over his past five games, Thornton has three goals and four assists. He has 34 points (13 goals) in 51 games this winter. Thornton is San Jose’s all-time team leader in assists (766) and is second in points (1,007), behind Patrick Marleau (1,082).
Thornton has 105 points in 125 playoff games. He compiled 21 points in 24 postseason games when the Sharks lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals in 2016. You have to believe, Thornton’s quest to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup is what drives him most at this point in his career.
There’s no telling how much sand Thornton has remaining in his hockey hourglass. The Sharks will play the Bruins in Boston next Tuesday in what will serve as a nice trip down memory lane for Thornton.
This consummate pro has accomplished a great deal since being dealt by the Bruins. The only thing Thornton’s career lacks is a season-ending victory lap with the Stanley Cup.
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi