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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.)
It is becoming increasingly obvious that this season will probably be Joe Thornton's last in San Jose, because you don't normally tell your GM to “shut his mouth” and call him a liar through the media and stick around for too long after that.
And so the Sharks are at a crossroads. Rumors swirl that the general manager would have liked to see Joe Pavelski named captain over the summer, after stripping Thornton of the duty at the same time, but that there wasn't really a lot of support for that in the Sharks' room. Everyone still likes Joe Thornton and what he brings to the table, except his GM apparently.
The first part of Wilson's quote was relatively innocuous, “He cares too much and yells too much,” and all that stuff. He's said it all before. What he hasn't said too much is this:
“The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe. And I sat him down and said we need other players to step up and share this. Leadership group in this league is a shared thing, it's not one guy.”
The reason people, including Thornton, seem to be upset about this is that it looks an awful lot like blame-casting. Thornton couldn't Lead The Team by himself and therefore he couldn't be captain any more. (Please don't examine the logic here too closely; by my count 17 of the NHL's 27 current captains haven't won a Cup. Moreover, it seems like not-having a captain isn't helping the Sharks too much these days.)
As has been pointed out many times by nearly many people in the past several months, the Sharks suffering that series loss to the Kings after taking a 3-0 lead fundamentally broke Wilson's confidence in his team as it was constituted (which is to say: very well). Rather than see that the Sharks had one of the best rosters in the league and went through a fluke loss to one of the most successful teams assembled in the salary cap era and consequently standing pat with what he had, Wilson went shopping for accountability and toughness and whatever other buzzwords he could find. In doing so, he made the team worse, adding a series of not-good-enough players to a roster that was previously one of the strongest in the league.
Since the Sharks acquired Thornton in December 2006, there are very few players with better possession numbers than him (he's 24th at 55.8 percent corsi). Even fewer have more points at even strength (he's sixth at 360). And the thing is that, even though he's now almost 36 years old, he's not really slowing down. His CF% this season is right in line with what it's always been, as is his points per 60 minutes. For all the perceived “Joe Thornton is a loser” stuff you see get thrown around the NHL at surprising levels even today, this guy is almost as good at 35 as he was at 26. Which is something that happens very, very rarely.
So the prospect of trading Joe Thornton has always been one that didn't make a lot of sense. Yes he's older, and yes the tread has to come flying off the tire at some point, but with Thornton's ability to drive play and post points goes the Sharks' ability to be as effective as they have been for a decade. In terms of how he's used, he's the only one on the Sharks who gets a tough ride in terms of possession. Future Captain Joe Pavelski has generally played soft minutes in his career specifically because Thornton eats all the hard ones so he won't have to. When he's been on the ice since his acquisition, the Sharks drive possession like the Los Angeles Kings at their absolute best (55.8 percent!). When he's off, they're slightly above water at 51.2 percent, or roughly as good as the Stars this year. If you adjust for score effects, his possession numbers are actually sixth in the league as well (56.4 percent). Over 650-plus games, that gives you a pretty good idea of just how much of a driver Thornton is, and where the Sharks would be without him.
But this year, with Wilson having made such a comprehensive effort at making his team worse, the difference is even bigger: They're a 56.8 percent possession team when Thornton's on the ice, and 48 percent when he isn't. That's pushing Patrice Bergeron-type levels of play-driving, and granted that's in part due to the fact that they've made the competition a little easier for him this year — as though he couldn't handle tougher? — but the point of all of this is that Thornton is still one of the biggest difference-makers in the league.
The Sharks are also getting outscored at evens this season, at minus-10. That's seventh-worst in the league. Last year, they were plus-20, which was seventh-best. Thornton hasn't really changed much, but most of the team's depth did.
And this is the guy for whom they've made the concerted effort to get him out of town as soon as possible. For Wilson to say the things he said in public, at this point in the season, is utterly baffling. People talk all the time about players creating “distractions” for their team, and so on, and usually their biggest crime is showing up late to a meeting or getting themselves suspended at a critical juncture. So where are the people cutting up Wilson's suits and throwing them in the shower? Who (besides Thornton, apparently) is going to say that Wilson needs to stop talking in the media and do his job, preferably better than he has?
Trading Thornton — and to a lesser extent Patrick Marleau — was something the Sharks pursued with undue vigor this past summer, and in pursuit of adding all the “jam” to the lineup, the team got worse. Right now it's on the outside of a playoff spot looking in, and the way things are going it doesn't appear as though the team will make it unless they make a serious push. Certainly the loss to Chicago provides pretty ample evidence that they don't have the horses to keep up with even semi-legitimate contenders. If they fail to weasel their way in over the last 13 games, it will be the first time since 2003 they missed out on the postseason. They'll have to get 20 points from those games to make sure this isn't their worst season in 12 years.
And the reason why is Doug Wilson. Bringing on garbage like John Scott and Mike Brown and Scott Hannan is what is pushing the team outside the playoff race? That isn't on Thornton. Remember when all this was happening over the summer and someone suggested that if Joe Thornton plays like a fourth-liner he'll be treated as such? Well he's arguably been the Sharks' best player once again, and when they finally trade him this summer — hopefully he'll only go to a division rival so he can spend another few years stuffing this down Wilson's throat five times a year — the Sharks will be all the poorer for it, no matter what they get back. No prospect they acquire, or pick they could make, is likely to be the difference-maker at 20 or even 25 that Thornton is at 36.
He's their last, best hope to win a Stanley Cup before the wheels come off and the team's window closes. Thornton's effectiveness is basically the reason the Sharks have enjoyed any window at all for the last decade. So if the Sharks are going to ship out anyone out, Thornton's not the guy that has to go. He doesn't make the team worse and never has.
Doug Wilson on the other hand? He's got a proven track record there.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: This is a rare thing these days: A game-winning goal against Devan Dubnyk.
Arizona Coyotes: If I were you I would get used to seeing this kind of headline a lot in the next year or three. Shane Doan now has one goal and two points since Feb. 9.
Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner are playing so well that even Milan Lucic is scoring with them.
Buffalo Sabres: Ted Nolan has an obvious dislike for Mikhail Grigorenko. Good news Mikhail: He's getting fired soon.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are shooting a league-best 11.2 percent in the third period and have nine goals with an extra attacker this year. Because they're in shape, obviously.
Carolina Hurricanes: Carolina is 1-4-1 since the trade deadline. But that's what happens when you trade Eric Sta... they what?
Chicago: You know things are going well in attack when even Patrick Sharp has a pair of goals.
Colorado Avalanche: John Mitchell kind of goes through half the Flames on this goal. John Mitchell for crying out loud.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Man, Ryan Murray has had some kind of bad luck since coming into the league. Hope the kid can stay healthy, because he looks like he can be a player at this level. Small sample and easier assignments, etc., but he's got one of the few positive possession numbers in Columbus.
Dallas Stars: “Playoff push.” Haha.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings' play of late really is opening the door for them to get passed by the surging Bruins. No one would have imagined this two or three weeks ago.
Edmonton Oilers: When one of the team's best players score, the team does better. Not, like in the win column or anything — they've dropped seven in a row — but y'know, baby steps.
Florida Panthers: Dan Ellis with the shutout on Saturday night. Dan Ellis!
Los Angeles Kings: You get the feeling Jeff Carter could score this kind of goal in his sleep. What a shot.
Minnesota Wild: Dubnyk for Hart. Dubnyk for Hart. Dubnyk for Hart. Dubnyk for Hart.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is cool and good. But if PK Subban does this he's a childish distraction. Guaranteed.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: After Saturday's game, the Preds hadn't led after the opening period in 13 straight games. Seems worrisome.
New Jersey Devils: Mike Cammalleri is up to 25 goals. Guy's pretty good.
New York Islanders: That's four straight home losses for the Isles, who started the year at a very sustainable 23-8 at Nassau Coliseum.
New York Rangers: If the Rangers like this Mackenzie Skapski kid so much — after all, he got them a shutout against the Sabres — then why did Chris Kreider hit him in the face with a pie? That's the greatest sign of disrespect. Ask any of the Three Stooges.
Ottawa Senators: Andrew Hammond was basically a .906 goalie until this season. Now he's Henrik-Tuukka Lundqvist-Rask somehow.
Philadelphia Flyers: You know things are going well in the final third of the ice when Zac Rinaldo is tacking on the extra point for you.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby banged up, no Malkin. This is going great.
San Jose Sharks: You know things are good when your owner has to be like, “Our best player and GM totally don't hate each other haha we're all cool here folks don't worry haha what's the big deal?”
St. Louis Blues: It's starting to look like the Blues could pull the Wild in the playoffs if everything stays as-is. Yes please.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Here's a feature on the Lightning's in-arena organist. I will link to any story about the organist at a hockey arena. That frickin' organ looks like a control panel on the Death Star.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Hmm it seems as if the Leafs are... bad. This is the second shorthanded goal they allowed on one major power play. Look at this pass from TJ Brodie. It is perfect in all ways imaginable.
Vancouver Canucks: You know things have gone sideways when Derek Dorsett has three points.
Washington Capitals: The Caps got bag-skated Saturday. That's how bad they've been.
Winnipeg Jets: Yeah, if you only allow 16 shots (none from center ice, please), even Ondrej Pavelec can win a game.
Play of the Weekend
People are really acting like Noah Hanifin isn't the third-best draft-eligible player in the world, huh?
Gold Star Award
Speaking of college hockey, Jack Eichel had six points in two games this weekend. He's up to 61 in 34 games (1.79 per). As the fourth-youngest player in the nation.
Minus of the Weekend
Coyotes ownership is claiming an operating loss of $34.831 million in the first year. That seems like an impossible number.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “belair” is on top of things.
BOS/SJS: Big Z for Jumbo Joe
You don't wanna go back home and lie to your friends about a summer romance that didn't even happen.