THN: 100 burning questionsTHN: 100 burning questions
With 30 teams and more than 700 players there are scores of questions entering the new season. The Hockey News gives our take on 100 of them – 10 in the cover story and 90 more in our team reports.
Can Joe thornton lead the Sharks to the Cup?
In the past four NHL seasons, there hasn’t been a better playmaker on the planet than Joe Thornton. Since 2002-03, he has scored 413 points. Nobody in the NHL has even come close to matching his output.
Thornton is a legitimate star and there is only one thing that stands between him and superstardom – a monster playoff run in which he leads his team to the Stanley Cup final and silences those who question whether or not he can deliver in the post-season.
The results have been decidedly mixed so far. In his two years with San Jose, Thornton has actually played well in the post-season, and was dominant at times last spring, but the Sharks have just two first round series victories over the Nashville Predators to show for it.
So can Thornton lead a team, in this case the Sharks, to a Stanley Cup?
“There’s no doubt in my mind that by the end of his career, Joe will win a Stanley Cup,” said San Jose coach Ron Wilson, “no doubt in my mind whatsoever.”
Yeah, but that’s not what we asked. What we want to know is: Can a team with Joe Thornton as its heartbeat, its go-to guy, win a Stanley Cup? Wilson thinks so. Some of those outside the organization compare Thornton to Mike Modano, a wonderfully talented, top-end player with the desire to win – but who couldn’t do it on his own and needed some veteran help.
“When you look at Joe, you don’t look at him and say, ‘You can’t win with him,’ like you do with some other guys,” said an NHL pro scout. “But I think he needs someone to help him. Unfortunately, the guy who plays behind him (Patrick Marleau) is the same kind of player.”
That’s why the pre-free agency rumors about Chris Drury signing with San Jose made so much sense. Drury is precisely the kind of player who could have taken some of that pressure off Thornton and helped mentor him on what it takes to win championships.
Even though the Sharks have all kinds of cap room, they don’t appear to be looking for anyone to fit that role. They return this season with almost precisely the same team they had last year, but the expectations have been ratcheted up. The Sharks have committed more than $60 million in contract extensions to Thornton, Marleau and Milan Michalek.
Wilson abhors the question, but realizes it will likely continue to follow Thornton until he wins a Cup. But Wilson sees a difference in Thornton that he doesn’t see in many other players who can’t deliver: Thornton, he says, has grown to enjoy the physical part of the game and has begun to embrace the battles that need to be waged in the playoffs. Wilson cut Thornton’s ice time last year because he wanted him to be fresh for the playoffs, but critics argue that until Thornton begins to take the responsibility of playing in all crucial situations, his ability to take a team to a Cup will be compromised.
Wilson doesn’t buy it.
“Why did it take Chris Pronger so long? He was on some very good teams in St. Louis that never won,” Wilson said. “And Ray Bourque, he was on some great teams. But what a loser. He didn’t win until he was in the league for 23 years.”
THN says: With some better performances from his supporting cast, Thornton will lead the Sharks to the Cup final before his contract expires in 2011.
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