San Jose Sharks star center Joe Thornton struggled last season to the tune of just 50 points.
For most NHL forwards, that would be a terrific season.
Yet for Thornton, it was his lowest non-lockout-shortened-season total since prior to Y2K.
Let that sink in for a moment...
From 1999-2000 through 2015-16, Thornton finished with 60 or more points each and every season. The man they call “Jumbo” is a no-doubt, sure-fire Hall of Famer. Even if he retired today.
While he apparently isn’t one of the top-100 players of all time, Thornton currently sits 13th all time with 1,007 assists. He has not finished a season with fewer than 43 assists since 2000-01.
Another 43-plus apples in 2017-18 would see Thornton pass Joe Sakic, Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe for ninth on the all-time list. A 57-plus assist season this upcoming year (a mark he’s “only reached” nine times previously) would see him move into eighth place all time, passing yet another Detroit legend, Steve Yzerman.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but Andrew, he’s now 38-years old and coming off offseason knee surgery, there is no way he will actually improve upon last year’s numbers!
Actually, he will.
He is going to improve upon his scoring numbers by a minimum of 15 points and here’s why:
Tale of Two Very Different Offseasons
Last season was set up for Thornton to take a step back. It was by far the shortest offseason of his career. The Sharks’ 2015-16 season didn’t end until June 12th. Thornton was an absolute monster that year with 82 points. His performance earned him a spot on Team Canada’s World Cup team. That meant his September was spent practicing for and playing in high-stakes games. His offseason lasted only two-and-a-half months.
While he did undergo surgery after last season ended, this year’s offseason will have been much, much longer. San Jose’s 2016-17 playoffs ended on Apr. 22nd. The first game of San Jose’s 2017-18 regular season, (they open up the season with a five-game homestand mind you) isn’t until Oct. 4. That is nearly a five-and-a-half month break. Not to mention, that five-game homestand takes place over two full weeks. San Jose won’t actually play a road game this upcoming season until Oct. 20, which will be a full six months since Thornton’s previous competitive road contest. Thornton is going to be refreshed and ready to bank the points early on this upcoming season.
Due For More Bounces
Another reason Thornton is bound to see an uptick in scoring is that his 8.6 percent shooting last season was far below his career norm. We all know Thornton doesn’t shoot, and a career-low 86 shots (outside his rookie year 33) last season is cause for some concern. However, standard variation rules suggest Thornton will likely score at much closer to, if not higher than his career average rate (13.9%) next season. A 13.9 shooting percentage on 90 shots next season would equate to 12-13 goals. That would be a five-six goal increase just based on a return to his normal rate (he only scored seven goals last season).
If his raw shot total were also to bounce back to the 120-range where he finished the prior three seasons, we are looking at about 17 goals. Even if the percentage were to remain significantly low, but the volume rebounds to the recent norm, that would equate to 10-11 goals.
One could also make the case that San Jose’s power play is due to bounce back, and that Thornton will reap the benefits. However, last year Thornton still tallied 19 power-play points, the exact same total from his 2013-14 season.
Even though an increase in effectiveness of San Jose’s power play might not boost Thornton’s numbers, there is no denying that he is going to be both fresher and due for better luck this upcoming season. Furthermore, he will be playing in a contract year for the second-straight season. If Thornton wants to play for anywhere near the $6.75 million he made last season, or the $8 million he signed for for this upcoming season come 2018-19, he will have to prove he’s still capable of being a 65-plus-point No. 1 center. He is certainly still skilled enough to do so.
Not Without Precedent
As Sharks fans will attest, a motivated Joe Thornton has always been a force to be reckoned with. And while 38 sounds extremely old for an average NHLer, we are not talking about an average NHLer here. We are talking about Joe, mother-bleeping Thornton. Comparisons to recent old-age superstars like Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne are much more relevant than say a career grinder like Vernon Fiddler.
In the season which Jagr turned 44, he increased his point total by 19 points from the previous year. Jagr finished 2014-15 with 47 points between Florida and New Jersey, playing a total of 77 games. The following year for the Panthers he finished with 66 points in 79 games. Selanne meanwhile played full seasons at 40 and 41-years old where he scored 66 and 80 points. The previous two years saw Selanne finish with similar PPG rates, but only managed to play 54 and 65 games those seasons.
The point to be had here is that just because a future Hall of Famer has a down year late in his career, it doesn’t necessarily mean his production will automatically trend down year after year. Just look at Thornton himself, he went from 65 points in 2014-15 to 82 points in 2015-16.
While this writer doesn’t envision another 80-point season, 65-70 is still well within Thornton’s enormous reach. I’ll say this much, I wouldn’t bet against it.