Can someone get a read on the San Jose Sharks?
No, seriously – is there a more bipolar team in the NHL than SJ?
On Dec. 4, we (and by we I mean I) pronounced that they were a mess, and Doug Wilson was at fault for creating a strange an unnecessary leadership debacle.
Consider this somewhat of a mea culpa and praise of how former captain Joe Thornton has handled the situation.
Said The Hockey Writers:
The Hart Memorial Trophy is not supposed to be awarded to the game’s most talented player or even highest producing player. It is meant to be awarded to the player most valuable to his team. Haters of Joe Thornton (winner of the 2005-06 Hart Trophy) can roll their eyes and chastise yours truly for having “teal colored glasses” but there is a case to be made for the 35-year-old center.
Hart Trophy? A little much perhaps. That tends to be given to the player with the sexiest stats. He ranks 21st in the NHL with 30 points in 35 games. He has just eight goals, and is just one point ahead of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture for the Sharks lead. Give it to Sidney Crosby ... because that's what we always do when he's healthy.
But without the weight of the ‘C’ maybe Thornton is just simply able to play with a ‘screw the whole world’ type of mentality. He’s not encumbered but the responsibilities that come with the letter and the weight of disappointment that involves finger pointing and blame at the big Canadian.
He has 10 points in his last 11 games, and overall has been a puck possession monster with a CF Rel % 5-on-5 of 18.10 on the year according to naturalstattrick.com. He has also won 56.8 percent of his draws. At the age of 35, he's as big, strong, dynamic and powerful as ever. And he's finding open players at key times.
Look at this pass to defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to tie it late against St. Louis last Saturday. The Sharks won the game in overtime.
Thornton made a similar play to Joe Pavelski on San Jose's game-winner nine days earlier against Minnesota.
While their situation (the captaincy stripping, going with all alternates, not naming a ‘C’) still seems strange and unnecessary, you can’t deny the fact that Wilson’s players have gone on a hellfire-like streak, winning nine of their last 11 games – a stretch where they have gone 9-1-1.
This team has the feel of the Cleveland Indians in “Major League” when the players would tear off pieces of their owner’s clothing in a locker room cardboard cut out every time they win. Doing that with Wilson would be a little um, different, but at very least this team seems motivated to prove someone/something wrong.
Well, let’s consider the gong show that was the offseason in terms of the raw, emotional soul searching, maybe finger pointing and ultimately leadership change with the letters being stripped off uniforms.
The team continued to get younger, with veterans such as Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart exiting and the payroll going south as younger faces took over roles.
San Jose is still only four points out of a non-playoff position. And let’s not kid ourselves. They will slump. It happens to everyone. This team did lose four games in a row at one point this year. But simply, they're just looking like the Sharks with flashes of brilliances, speckled with bits of disappointment.
Again from LeBrun’s story:
"They’re just finding ways to win," said the Western Conference coach.
"Not much different with them, maybe a bit more speed on third and fourth lines. But really not much different. Joe Thornton is still a really good player, and so are Couture, [Joe] Pavelski and [Patrick] Marleau."
Through 35 games this year, the Sharks have 43 points and just and five fewer points at this time a year ago, when they finished with 111. Their Corsi-For percentage is near the top-third of the league at 52.2 percent according to puckalytics.com.
Said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau to the San Jose Mercury News:
"They're just a good team. They've always been a good team," Boudreau said. "I laugh when at the beginning of the year teams aren't going as well as they normally would, and they would talk about San Jose. Because they're just a really good team."
And that was the key to the confusion earlier in the season about San Jose. They are a good team with some solid pieces – in spite of the playoff non-success. Some teams would love to have the Sharks’ problems. Why tinker?
But whatever was done, it seems to be working on the bottom line, and has benefited the former captain.
There have been many thoughts in the past that Thornton's greater devotion to two-way hockey would lead to better postseason success. It simply hasn't happened yet, and he has never reached a Stanley Cup Final in San Jose. Plus, we have a long way to go, and there's always a chance this team could flame out. But maybe, just maybe this unorthodoxed approach (refresh, rebuild re-whatever Wilson says) has helped the most jumbo of Sharks? Whether it has or hasn't, you can't deny numbers and results. Currently, Thornton, and the Sharks, have them both.
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