The biggest trade in hockey will always be the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers, but in the past decade, there hasn’t been a bigger trade than the Joe Thornton trade. On November 30, 2005, the Boston Bruins traded a superstar, Joe Thornton, to the San Jose Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart. Thornton was the Bruins’ captain and leading scorer with 33 points in 24 games. The Bruins have developed a reputation for trading stars and future stars. Since the Thornton trade, the Bruins have shipped out Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Milan Lucic. These are all players that most teams would hold on to for longer than the Bruins did, particularly Seguin, Kessel, and Hamilton.
Long ago, back in 1997, Thornton was drafted first overall by the Bruins. He was dominating junior hockey and was the no-brainer first overall pick. He brought an exceptional combination of size, grit, and generational offensive abilities. In junior hockey, he was simply a man amongst boys due to his 6’4” frame and power forward style of play. Thornton immediately became an NHL player after being drafted. His first season had its growing pains and didn’t go as well as the Bruins had hoped. He scored seven points in 55 games after scoring 122 points in 59 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL in the prior season. His second season in the NHL was a little better. He had 41 points in 81 games, but this still wasn’t the kind of production that the Bruins thought they would be getting from their hyped up superstar first overall pick. By Thornton’s fourth season in the NHL, he was a point-per-game player and in the 2002-03 season, he put up 101 points in 77 games. This was good for third in the league and only five points behind Peter Forsberg for the league lead. Thornton continued this production all the way up until he was traded, except in the 2004 playoffs where he went point-less in all seven games.
Bruins fans may look at the Thornton trade and think it was a success based on the fact that the Bruins have won a Cup since the trade while the Sharks haven’t. However, none of the pieces that the Bruins received in the Thornton trade helped them win a Cup or even came close. Thornton has gotten the Sharks close to a Cup multiple times, and none of the playoff losses can be seen as his fault. Thornton has had 82 points in 97 playoff games since joining the Sharks.
The only year that people have said was his fault is the playoff collapse against the Kings in 2014 when the Sharks gave up a 3-0 lead in the series. Thornton and all of the Sharks were great in the first three games but disappeared after that. All of the main go-to guys disappeared, though, including Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau. That was a team collapse and not a Thornton collapse.
Thornton was the first elite superstar that the Sharks have ever had in franchise history and will go down as the best Shark of all-time, regardless of what Marleau has done for the team. Marleau never dominated the NHL quite like Thornton, for Thornton immediately took the Sharks from a playoff contender to a Stanley Cup contender. In Thornton’s first season with the Sharks, he registered 92 points in 58 games. Add those points to what he already achieved in Boston before the trade, that is 125 points on the season. Thornton won the Art Ross Trophy, given to the player with the most points in the NHL, and the Hart Memorial Trophy, given to the MVP in the league. He became the first player in NHL history to win the scoring title and MVP in a season that was split between two teams.
Thornton stayed, at least, a point-per-game player through the 2009-10 season. The following season, he made a shift to becoming more of a two-way forward. He has remained the Sharks’ first-line center and one of the most offensively productive players, but he emerged as one of the best two-way forwards, particularly excelling in takeaways.
Thornton still had at least 70 points each season up until last season when he had 65. Even in the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, he was on pace for 70 points. Last season, he missed four games, so he could have ended up with 70. Regardless of that, he still is productive despite being a 36-year-old and having played 1,319 NHL games.
Thornton back-checks harder than anyone in the league, especially first-line centers. Tuesday night against the Kings, there was a perfect example of Thornton’s hard back checking. Late in the game, he stopped what would have been a Kings’ 2-on-1 that could have resulted in a game-tying goal.
There are plenty of articles that have been published critiquing Joe Thornton’s game, leadership, character, and the list goes on, but it is all undeserved. There are not nearly enough articles that praise Thornton, so the aim of this article is to finally give Thornton the credit he deserves. Sure, he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup or taken his team to a Stanley Cup final, but to judge a player solely on that is asinine. If a hockey player is only worth something based on championships, then Rob Scuderi should be a first ballot Hall of Fame player along with Dan Carcillo. Both Scuderi and Carcillo each have two Stanley Cups, and Scuderi could even end up with a third this year since he is now on the Stanley Cup winning machine Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, players like Thornton, Jarome Iginla, and Jeremy Roenick all have no Cups. Iginla and Roenick have both been to a Stanley Cup final, but at the end of the day, the result is the same. No championships.
Whether Thornton wins a Cup in his few remaining years or not, he goes down as one of the best players to play hockey and the most important player to the San Jose Sharks in franchise history. Any true Sharks fans should want Thornton to win a Cup so he can finally get the respect he deserves. If that means that he does it with another team, then that’s fine. Everyone knows he will bring that Cup back to San Jose because he loves the city and would give his heart for it and the people who reside in it.