Joe Thornton will play game No. 1000 tonight, but tomorrow night would’ve been better

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It’s almost too bad Joe Thornton will hit this historic benchmark tonight in New Jersey. Not to take anything away from the Prudential Center or the streaking Devils (winners of three straight) — it’s just that, tomorrow night, the Sharks will take on the Bruins in Boston.

Now that would’ve been a storyline.

It’s been almost six full years since the blockbuster deal that sent Thornton to San Jose in exchange for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. The deal still stands as one of the most remarkable in NHL history — that year, Thornton became the only player in league history to win the Hart and Art Ross trophies while playing for two different teams in the same season.

In short, Boston traded away the league’s most valuable player…for three okay players.

Looking back on Thornton’s time in Boston, it makes you wonder if it could’ve gone differently:

— The season after losing their leading goalscorer (Bill Guerin) starting goalie (Byron Dafoe) and a good defenseman (Kyle McLaren), the Bruins made the 23-year-old Thornton team captain. This despite the presence of veterans like Glen Murray (an original Bruins pick that played five season with the team), Don Sweeney (third all-time in games played) and Rob Zamuner (who had been the captain in Tampa).

— That year, Jumbo had 101 points in 77 games.

— The coach that made him captain, Robbie Ftorek, was fired.

— Speaking of coaches, Thornton had five in seven years: Pat Burns, Mike Keenan, Ftorek, Mike O’Connell and Mike Sullivan.

— Thornton took major abuse for Boston’s lack of playoff success. But how about considering the goalies that started playoff games for Boston during that time: Dafoe, Jeff Hackett, Steve Shields and Andrew Raycroft.

The playoff stigma followed Thornton to San Jose, but even that has its flaws. For all of Thornton’s supposed choking, he’s been to back-to-back Western Conference finals and scored 29 points in his last 33 postseason games. If other players do that, they’re considered pretty solid playoff performers.

I guess the problem is that Joe Thornton isn’t other players. He’s unique, polarizing. He’s either Jumbo Joe or No-Show Joe — and after 1000 games in the National Hockey League, there’s still debate about which nickname is more apt.