Joe Thornton

Has Joe Thornton really ever been a ‘choker’ since he came to San Jose?

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More than a few people will be shocked to learn that Joe Thornton is currently tied for the playoffs scoring lead with 17 points. A lot has been made about Thornton destroying previous old notions about his supposedly inferior postseason play, but a breakthrough at this level still must raise a few eyebrows.

It’s not wrong to say that he’s dispelling old myths, but here’s the rub: those notions were shaky – if not totally inaccurate – in the first place.

Yes, it’s true that Jumbo Joe struggled in a few series earlier in his career with the Boston Bruins. Going pointless in two different series will give critics plenty of firepower and Thornton’s care-free attitude probably didn’t help matters. That weak-in-the-playoffs perception ultimately polluted any good feelings the Bruins held about the over-sized playmaker, leading to the lopsided deal that sent him to San Jose.

Since then, he’s actually been quite strong in each playoffs run with the Sharks, unless your only barometer for success is a Stanley Cup victory.

Thornton has been a steady playoff performer since being traded from Boston.

The Sharks were a middling bunch in their first post-lockout season until Thornton came along and powered them to a powerhouse level with his peerless passing. While linemates and opponents have changed over the years, two things haven’t: the Sharks/Thornton are still without a Stanley Cup victory and people still assume that Big Bird goes Fun Size in the postseason.

There’s little doubt that the 2011 playoffs have been the greatest, most demonstrative set of postseason games in Thornton’s career, but the difference is subtler than one might expect. Thornton has 12 goals and 52 assists for 64 points in 72 playoff games with San Jose, with the only “troubling” number being his -16 rating. (I think his 24 power-play points dulls the bitterness of some of that 5-on-5 play, anyway.)

Sure, Thornton seems more comfortable on the ice this year, but he’s also getting some fortunate bounces (for once?) and can rely on his teammates for more offensive support this time around. His increased luck might be best exemplified by the goal he scored against Roberto Luongo in Game 1.

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Now it’s true that Thornton’s playoff numbers typically pale in comparison to his regular season pace, but most high-scoring players see their averages drop in the playoffs. That’s what happens when every goal is much more crucial, defenses key on your tendencies and players clog up lanes by blocking shots with much greater frequency.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take anything away from how special this postseason has been for Thornton. My point is simple: his improvement hasn’t been nearly as drastic as many would believe.

In the long run, it might come down to how we perceive his body language. To some, it would seem like a playoff monkey has been lifted off Thornton’s back. Then again, when it comes to the way people depict Thornton, it really has been all about perception. Perhaps we’ve just been imagining that monkey the whole time.

Report: Gaborik (foot) to miss World Cup final, start of Kings season in doubt

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe celebrates his first period goal against Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Some bad news for Team Europe and the Los Angeles Kings — Marian Gaborik, who was seen this morning on crutches, is reportedly out of the World Cup of Hockey final and may miss the beginning of the NHL campaign as well.

The news, first reported by Sportsnet, comes after Gaborik played 17:58 in Europe’s shock semifinal win over Sweden, scoring his team’s opening goal.

Gaborik took a puck to the foot during the second period, yet managed to finish the game.

The veteran Slovak had enjoyed a good tournament prior to getting hurt, scoring a pair of goals while getting healthy doses of ice time, including nearly 19 in a win over the Czechs in the group stage.

With Gaborik out, Mikkel Boedker will (presumably) make his tournament debut. Boedker has been a healthy scratch for the Europeans thus far, though it’s possible he could continue to sit if head coach Ralph Krueger elects to dress seven defensemen — Luca Sbisa would get the call — rather than plug in another forward.

As for the ramifications for L.A… well, this could be tough. Gaborik, signed through 2021 at $4.875M per, only scored 12 goals and 22 points in 54 games last season — missing extensive time with a lingering knee injury — and the Kings were hopeful he was in line for a bounce-back campaign, especially given how good he looked at the World Cup.

Sportsnet reports Gaborik is headed back to Los Angeles today.

‘Never say never,’ but Krueger’s commitment is to Southampton, not to making an NHL return

Southampton v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre Season Friendly
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Ralph Krueger spent one lockout-shortened season in charge of the Edmonton Oilers, before he was unceremoniously fired (via Skype) to make way for the hiring of Dallas Eakins.

But Krueger’s success at the World Cup, leading Team Europe into the best-of-three final against Team Canada, has a lot of people wondering if he might one day make an NHL return.

Krueger’s current full-time job is a big one — he’s chairman of Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League.

Suffice to say, it’s not a job one just leaves for anything.

“I came in here committed completely to Southampton Football Club and the future of that organization in my role,” Krueger said Sunday. “You can never say never, but at the moment I’m very proud to be back in hockey at this level and to be competing. We are just having so much fun in our room, the coaches, the players, the whole group is enjoying it, and I am, too. But my real life is my commitment to Southampton Football Club at the moment.”

Kreuger repeated his “never say never” line today, so it sounds like he’s at least open to the possibility. However, he insisted that he didn’t take the World Cup job with the goal of getting another job in hockey.

Related: Southampton smokes West Ham in London

Byfuglien ‘didn’t enjoy’ his World Cup experience

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It’s getting harder and harder to find positives in the aftermath of Team USA’s poor performance at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Monday, Winnipeg d-man Dustin Byfuglien weighed in on his time at the tourney, telling Sportsnet it wasn’t much fun.

“The experience and everything that went on, it is what it is,” Byfuglien said. “You know, I didn’t enjoy it.”

That revelation is hardly a surprise. Head coach John Tortorella made Byfuglien a healthy scratch for the tournament opener against Europe — a dismal 3-0 loss — then played Big Buff just 10:50 in a 4-2 defeat to Canada.

Byfuglien did get a healthy chunk of ice time in America’s final game — 21:18 in a loss to the Czechs — but by that point, the damage was done.

It was clear early on the Byfuglien experiment had its problems.

Named to the U.S. national team for the first time in his career, he was platooned between forward and defense in the exhibition games leading up to the tournament, even though he’d previously stated he much prefers playing defense.

“It’s definitely not my favorite spot,” Byfuglien said after playing up front in a pre-tourney win over Finland. “It’s just something they wanted to try and that was it.”

Not long after the Finland game, Big Buff was out of the lineup. And Tortorella’s reasoning behind the move wasn’t very clear.

“As we went through our lineup and the situations that we may get involved with — power play, penalty killing and all that — we felt this was our lineup to start the tournament,” he explained.

The lack of explanation only further confused the issue. Parking Byfuglien was a bizarre decision to begin with, especially in light of America’s offensive woes at the tournament — a versatile weapon on the power play, Byfuglien was the highest-scoring U.S. defenseman in the NHL last season.

In the end, this situation only underscores the problems that plagued Team USA throughout the tourney. Roster and lineup decisions constantly came under scrutiny and, in the end, nobody had anything positive to say about the end result.

But at least there was one good memory…

What about the Red Wings for Trouba?

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 27:  Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 27, 2014 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Earlier today, PHT writer Adam Gretz made compelling cases for the Ducks, Bruins, Rangers, and Avalanche to take a run at Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba.

But allow me to add one more team to the potential mix — the Detroit Red Wings, who could really use a 22-year-old, right-shot defenseman who skates well and has good offensive instincts.

The Wings also have a surplus of forwards to work with. While Dylan Larkin is probably untouchable, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar probably aren’t. Or perhaps a youngster like Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha would interest the Jets.

The question the Wings may run into, should they make a push for Trouba, is whether they’d be willing to part with Danny DeKeyser. The 26-year-old defenseman just signed a six-year contract extension, and there’s reason to believe the Jets may look for a youngish, left-shot d-man in return for Trouba.

That’s pure speculation, for the record. DeKeyser is an important part of the Wings. He’s a Michigan native and he comes with a fairly reasonable, $5 million cap hit. However, it’s worth noting that, according to General Fanager, his no-trade clause doesn’t kick in until next summer.

At the very least, Ken Holland should be in touch with Kevin Cheveldayoff, if only to gauge the price for Trouba. The Red Wings’ GM said over the summer that he may look to trade for a defenseman around training-camp time, which happens to be right now.

“Part of this might be let’s get to September and see,” Holland said. “I’m hoping we’ve got 15, 16 NHL forwards and we’re positioned to do a deal.”