“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the San Jose Sharks, we pick… Joe Thornton.
To be fair, Thornton could be the pick every year. So what makes the 2013-14 campaign different?
First, there’s his contract situation.
Thornton’s three-year, $21 million deal expires at the end of this season. Traditionally, the Sharks have wrapped up Jumbo Joe well before free agency — in 2007, he signed a three-year, $21.5 million extension with a year left on his current deal and, in 2010, agreed to a three-year pact (for $21 million) hours prior to the Sharks’ home opener.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson has confirmed talks with Thornton’s camp about another extension. Thing is, circumstances have changed since ’07 and ’10.
Thornton is now 34 years old. While he’s the captain, arguably the greatest player in Sharks history and the franchise’s lone Hart Trophy winner, it could be argued this isn’t “his team” anymore.
Logan Couture, the team’s budding 24-year-old star, signed a five-year, $30 million extension this summer. He’s been pegged as a future captain and began undertaking a leadership position last season, when head coach Todd McLellan praised Couture for elevating “into an elite role” and “driving our bus.”
The Sharks also made an equally large investment in 29-year-old Joe Pavelski, signing him to a five-year, $30 million extension as well. Pavelski emerged as a clutch performer for San Jose this past postseason, scoring 12 points in 11 games.
So there’s Thornton’s pending free agency, and San Jose’s changing of the guard. What else? How about ’13-14 being Thornton’s chance to alter the narrative of his Sharks career.
Despite all the statistics and hardware, Thornton’s time in San Jose is defined by a lack of playoff success. In eight years, his lone postseason highlights are two trips to the Western Conference finals… in which the Sharks went a combined 1-8.
(In a telling stat, Pavelski and Couture finished one-two in team playoff scoring last year. Thornton was third.)
That’s not all Thornton has on his plate this year, either — he’ll be angling for an Olympic spot as well. Though he missed August’s orientation camp due to a family illness, Thornton was one the 47 players invited to participate and one of only two that played for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup, 2006 and ’10 Olympics (Roberto Luongo is the other). He’s one of Canada’s most decorated international players, having won gold at the World Juniors, World Cup and Olympics, and he’d love to represent his country once more.
So to recap: All Thornton’s playing for this year is a new contract, a chance at the Olympics and — potentially — defining his legacy in San Jose.
No pressure, Joe.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.