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

Oct 21, 2011, 1:05 PM EDT

Joe Thornton AP

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.

  1. mgp1219 - Oct 21, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    No story here.

  2. spitfisher - Oct 21, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    Despite the trade and the talent around Joe Thorton-still no cup for Joe. On paper it looked like a foolish deal, but Boston didn’t see the team talent of thorton, he was paid the maximum (something I never thought he was worth) and yet at times leaned on stick and just glided around. A captain should never be seen doing this, He should be an example and a motivator for his team. Joe never developed in Boston or SJ as that type of player. Boston speciifcally Mike O’connell saw this early on, gave him sometime to develop and instead opted to build a nucleus around Bergeron who was 18 at the time. OConnell and others eventually lost his job as result of the trade. OConnel last spring said at the time of decision he was convinced Joe Thorton was not going to lead the bruins to a cup. Joes salary also held the bruins hands from signing other players such as Chara and savard. Bergeron had the work ethic & commaderie and support of his teammates early on. Sure the trade was blockbuster, and had a lot people, fans and coaches scatching their heads, but the reason for the trade have rang true.

  3. ballistictrajectory - Oct 21, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    I started voicing my opinion that Joe Thornton needed to leave Boston about a year before the trade. It was very clear that he was not motivated to lead the team. It was a far better thing to see him in the Western Conference. I liked him as a Bruin, but I liked him more as a Shark.

    Plese note that Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy in that year, putting in a very impressive season, albeit a sometimes very lucky one. His attitude during the lockout and “sophmore slump” is what got him canned. I believe he played in 12 or 15 games during the lockout, while Bergeron went down the Providence and helped that team to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals agains the Phantoms. What a season and what a series… Bettered only by this past one in Boston.

    The issues with the B’s front office, are as legendary as the rivalries with Montreal, NYR, and Philly. I’m convinced that the only reason the Bruins got a Stanley Cup is because Neely is the President and implemented a simple “can this player become a Bruin” test on every trade. That is a test that Thornton did not pass. He did not commit to putting it all on the ice for the franchise.

    I wish Joe well. I hope he gets a ring someday, and I was a little disappointed that he’s celebrtating his 1000th game in another rink, but I haven’t altered my opinion that he is better off in Sunny California, and the Bruins are better off without him.

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