To his harshest critics, Joe Thornton wears a label of being a playoff underperformer who has never been able to lead his team to a championship.
While it’s true Jumbo Joe has never guided his team to the Stanley Cup through 15 seasons, he does have an Olympic gold medal in his top drawer and a Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy on his mantle. Thornton will also go down as one of the most unselfish stars in the history of the game.
Those accolades, along with offensive stats that will one day rank him among the top 20 of all-time, will be enough to land Thornton in the Hall of Fame three years after he retires – Stanley Cup or not.
The first overall draft pick from 1997 recently cracked the NHL’s top 50 in points. His next point will tie him with Bobby Hull at 1,170. In terms of assists, Thornton just moved into the top 25 passing Alex Delvecchio and stands at 832.
At 34, Thornton still has a few good years left in him and reports are he’s on the verge of signing a contract extension with the San Jose Sharks. Probably three or four more seasons.
If Thornton can average a conservative 60 points a season for four more years (he’s averaging a 76-point pace this season and the previous three combined), that’s another 240 points to the coffers. That would put him in the neighborhood of 1,450 points (16th all-time) and 1,050 assists (ninth all-time, ahead of Joe Sakic, Marcel Dionne and Gordie Howe.)
And that’s being conservative.
If Thornton can play another five seasons after this one, he’ll challenge 1,100 assists. The only players in that club are Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey.
In terms of goals, Thornton is at 337 and may not get to 400, or even 382, which would put him in the top 100 all-time. But his game is mostly about playmaking. Of forwards with at least 1,100 points, Thornton ranks behind just Adam Oates in his assists-to-goals ratio – 2.47. Oates is at 3.16.
Internationally, Thornton has been a part of two Olympics, winning gold in 2010. He also won gold in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 1997 world juniors.
As for winning a Stanley Cup with the Sharks? That’s obviously first and foremost on his mind now. It won’t be the determining factor in getting him in the Hall of Fame, but it would silence his critics.
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This is the fifth in a series of Hall Monitor blogs. Others have been on:
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN