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Ryan Lambert

What We Learned: Sharks' Thornton makes the comfortable choice

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Earlier this weekend we saw Joe Thornton(notes) sign a three-year extension that will pay him an average of $7 million a season and comes with a no-movement clause.

Thornton's commitment to winning, his teammates, the organization and the several other things to which he was made out to be eternally devoted by Sharks management is exhibited by taking a slight pay cut to "help the team win."

Well, it's something like that.

Now granted, Thornton probably could have gotten some bonehead GM to shell out more than the $21 million over three years he accepted to stay in San Jose. But we wouldn't really know for sure, because he has never been an unrestricted free agent for any length of time. He sure wouldn't have let that happen now. He's very comfortable where he is.

Consider the amount of pressure Thornton faces in San Jose, even as the newly-minted captain. Yes, people care about the team more than they do in, say, Phoenix or Miami, but Northern California isn't exactly a pressure cooker where wins are demanded by media and public alike.

There is little doubt that Thornton, along with Marleau and Heatley and Boyle and every other player on the Sharks, would love to win a Stanley Cup, but no one outside the organization is leaning on him to perform. He'll keep earning praise for his stellar regular seasons - 20 goals and at least 70 points like clockwork - and he's now free to keep flaming out in the playoffs like the rest of the team.

(Coming Up: When former Blackhawks beat a former Blackhawk; Kris Letang's(notes) hit on Blake Comeau(notes); Niklas Backstrom(notes) whines while Nicklas Backstrom(notes) escapes suspension; Taylor Hall(notes) struggling; the resurrection of Michael Ryder(notes); Iggy breaks the streak; yes, we know Jeff Skinner(notes) was a figure skater; the 5-second fight; Habs fans need a new scapegoat; Lecavalier hurt; Dan Ellis(notes) problems; and Sean Avery(notes) slashes and sings TV theme songs.)

Starting next year the Sharks will have $50-something million tied up in 14 players. And while top-heavy rosters certainly work (see the two most recent Cup winners), and Thornton will still be cashing game checks larger than everyone but Dany Heatley's,(notes) pay cut or no.

Thornton presents an interesting situation, as there are very few players to whom we can compare him. Alex Ovechkin(notes) is perhaps the closest, since he too is highly paid and famous for having his team implode come the postseason, but he's also considerably younger and has appreciably more raw and fearsome talent than does Thornton. And no one would ever question Ovechkin's will to compete the way they have Jumbo Joe's.

And sure, it's nice from the Sharks' point of view that Thornton took less money than he currently makes; they can put that extra $200,000 toward... well, something, certainly. But this was a deal Joe asked for specifically. Doug Wilson got a call out of the blue from Thornton's brother/agent spelling out the details that were eventually agreed to. The motivation to stay in San Jose must have been rather strong. And that's great for both sides.

Thornton, with a new baby girl, gets security and stability for his family and still pulls in a boatload of money. The Sharks get an elite power forward and a bit of breathing room against the cap.

One could reasonably argue that what Thornton did was admirable. In two years, when Sid Crosby's contract runs out, it would be sincerely shocking to see him volunteer to take less money. While there's no doubt he'll be a Penguin pretty much for life, he'll always demand, and get, top value.

But that's because Pittsburgh -- not just the team, but the whole city -- needs Sidney Crosby(notes). And Silicon Valley doesn't need Joe Thornton, which makes his job much easier than Sid's. This transaction happened because it's more convenient for everyone that it did.

Thornton's taking less money wasn't necessary, but his staying in San Jose was.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Luca Sbisa(notes) was sent down to the AHL to make room for Andreas Lilja(notes), and even he knew he deserved it.

Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers have to be happy with the last 40 minutes of their game against San Jose -- they scored four unanswered after going down 2-0 in the first. Andrew Ladd(notes) and Dustin Byfuglien(notes), both castoff Blackhawks, put a puck past Antti Niemi(notes) and were pretty chuffed about it.

Boston Bruins: Remember how much Mike Ryder sucks? Not any more he doesn't, buddy. He's really improved his legwork this season and it's paying dividends to the tune of three points in as many games. (Playing with Tyler Seguin(notes) doesn't hurt, of course.)

Buffalo Sabres: It must suck to be on the Sabres right now. In his last two games, Ryan Miller(notes) allowed three goals on 63 shots and didn't win either of them. The on Saturday they outshoot Chicago 41-21 and still lose 4-3 with Patrick Lalime(notes) getting lit up.

Calgary Flames: It only took him 227:49, but Jarome Iginla(notes) finally picked up his first goal of the year and in doing so helped a lot of Calgarians breathe a little easier. Just don't tell them it was only against the Oilers.

Carolina Hurricanes: Someone should really keep track of the number of stories about Jeff Skinner that bring up his past as a figure skater. There have to be a whole hell of a lot of them.

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago recalled Jassen Cullimore(notes) in favor of Nick Leddy(notes), who was sent to the AHL as Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes) came off his suspension. No one is quite sure why this happened.

Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sacco is not happy with his team's special teams play.

And with only two power play goals for, and three shorties against in five games, I don't think you can blame him.

Columbus Blue Jackets: RJ Umberger(notes) had a shorthanded game-winning goal upheld by review, but that didn't stop Niklas Backstrom from bitching about it. "I don't think it was in. I think it was under my stomach the whole time. When I got up, it was under my pad. It doesn't cross the line. I don't know what happened. The ref behind the goal said it wasn't in. You look and watch the replay and it wasn't in. They're trying to make the goalies work harder. Maybe this is how it goes." Suck it up, big guy. The Jackets need this.

Dallas Stars: Given all the talk about how great Toronto's been through four games this year, you'd think the Stars would be getting similar treatment considering their record is exactly the same.

Detroit Red Wings: Mike Ilitch is committed to building a new stadium in downtown Detroit. Problem is that if the Red Wings return from a long road trip, they're likely to find it up on cinder blocks. (Easy jokes.) One aide said it was "a bit antiquated," but may have just been talking about the Wings' roster. (Easier jokes.)

Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall is still in search of his first NHL goal and didn't have a great night against Calgary, with both he and Jordan Eberle(notes) finishing a minus-3.

Florida Panthers: More boohooism from hockey fans -- Litter Box Cats decries the NHL's Three Stars for Saturday night because Rusty Olesz and David Booth(notes), who both went 1-2-3, failed to make the cut over Patrick Sharp(notes) (two goals, 13(!) shots) and Sid Crosby (2-1-3). Get over it, it's really not something worth worrying about.

Los Angeles Kings: After he called him out following the previous game, Terry Murray was much happier with Wayne Simmonds'(notes) effort on Friday. Gotta figure he's one of the guys the Kings need to step up if they want to accomplish anything this season.

Minnesota Wild: Michael Russo called Sunday morning's bag skate, mandated by Todd Richards, the most brutal he'd ever seen in 16 years covering the NHL. And he covered a team Mike Keenan coach. Even John Madden(notes) implied he hadn't ever been through anything like that. That's nuts.

Montreal Canadiens: Sorry Montreal fans, but Carey Price(notes) doesn't blow anymore. Now you will have to needlessly vilify someone else.

Nashville Predators: This is the only video I can find of Nick Backstrom boarding the hell out of Marcel Goc(notes), and he only got a minor out of it.

That shoulda gotten him the gate for sure.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils aren't happy with their 1-4-1 start, for obvious reasons. And by that I mean that they've dressed fewer players than they're allowed to for pretty much all of them.

New York Islanders: Zenon Konopka(notes) dropped the gloves with Chris Stewart(notes) five seconds into the game. Five seconds. Because they were chitchatting during warm-ups.

I'm all for fighting but there's no reason for this to happen at all. That's just stupid.

New York Rangers: Watch now as Sean Avery proves he knows more about hacking the hell out of Mike Komisarek's(notes) ankle than remembering the words to the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air's" theme song.

And despite what Patrick Roy's kid would have us believe, hockey players and hip hop just don't mix.

Ottawa Senators: Ottawa coach Cory Clouston on his team going up 3-1 on Montreal midway through the second, then losing 4-3: "We got up 3-1 and then completely changed our game, for whatever reason ... I don't know." That is not a good thing for a coach to say.

Philadelphia Flyers: Usually the sore-losing and finger-pointing is a task most often left to fans of teams, and not their captains, but Mike Richards(notes) really got out the Kleenexes for that postgame interview over the weekend. Peter Laviolette, on the other hand, was a bit more sanguine about the whole situation. "If you go back and look at them, they are avoidable," he said. "The penalties are avoidable. It taxes the penalty killers, it taxes the defensemen who have to kill the penalties, it takes the roll out of the bench."

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes lost their home opener against Detroit on one of two overtime power plays because, shock of shocks, Tomas Holmstrom(notes) took a bit of a dive in front of the net against Adrian Aucoin(notes). I will get Ripley's on the phone posthaste because this is a truly surprising circumstance to have arisen.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Thankfully, the NHL has rescinded the penalty for Kris Letang's hit on Blake Comeau on Friday, which was perfectly legal but led him to get ejected anyway. This is the only outcome that should have come from the incident, which was, frankly, embarrassing for the officials involved.

San Jose Sharks: Okay sure, Danny Boyle's eating a lot of minutes - 27:32 through the first three games of the season - but that doesn't mean his TOI is responsible for his poor play against Atlanta. He "just didn't feel comfortable overall." So stop worrying that they're giving over 27 minutes a night to a 34-year-old.

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St. Louis Blues: The Blues outshot Dallas 43-25 and lost 3-2 in a shootout. One gets the feeling that this may happen to St. Louis a lot this year, no?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Losing to the suddenly unstoppable Panthers 6-0 is bad enough, but losing Vinny Lecavalier to a hand injury for any amount of time? That'd be way, way worse.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Great take by Steve Burtch as he calls for sanity and sensibility from Leafs fans despite their hot start. Something most people probably hadn't considered: the teams they've beaten featured some really weak lineups thanks to injuries and suspensions.

Vancouver Canucks: When Mikael Samuelsson(notes) scored in practice, one media wag sarcastically applauded, and Alain Vigneault was actually surprised by the reaction. "I started to laugh. I said: 'Is it that bad?'" Good stuff there.

Washington Capitals: Congrats to Brian Fahey(notes) who, at the age of 29, finally got into his first NHL game ever on Saturday. On the other hand, he was a minus-2 in just 9:50 of ice time. So that's not the best debut ever.

Gold Star Award

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Anthony Stewart(notes) picked up his first NHL hattie on Friday night and followed that up with another goal on Saturday. All in just over 28 minutes of ice time. That's pretty good production, eh?

Minus of the Weekend

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Dan Ellis got the start against Florida and gave up three goals on 15 shots in just 15:13 of work before getting the hook. That's a problem.

Play of the Weekend

Sweet goal by Milan Michalek(notes) here against the Habs.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User FF de Mars wants to shuffle Jarome Iginla to the East and knows just how to do it.

Iginla

for

Hamrlik, Spacek, 2011 Habs 1st, 2012 Habs 1st, Pouliot, Maxwell and Pacioretty

This is a slam dunk.

Signoff

You ever sat down and read this thing? Technically we're not supposed to go to the bathroom.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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