After 1,356 games, Sharks center Joe Thornton is embarking on a long-awaited trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the SAP Center won San Jose the Western Conference title in six games.
The win marks the Sharks first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, and perhaps the biggest moment in Thornton’s career.
After 25 years, San Jose has a chance to hoist the Cup with Thornton leading the way.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Thornton Is a Three-Zone Player & One of the NHL’s Top Defensive Forwards
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Thornton is one of the best passers and defensive forwards in the NHL.
The 36-year-old center is at a point in his career where players usually decline towards retirement. Thornton, however, shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to prove his ability on both sides of the puck.
He’s coming off his best regular season in years, amassing 82 points in 82 games while going plus-25, pushing him to plus-174 for his career.
He’s continued to find success in the playoffs. Thornton currently ranks second in the league in assists with 15.
He’s notched 18 points in 18 games this postseason, which is a career high. Thornton tallied 17 in 18 games in the 2010-11 campaign.
In a recent press conference, San Jose coach Peter DeBoer praised Thornton for his honest and complete style of hockey:
This guy plays as honest a game as anyone I’ve coached. In general, Joe as a player is probably underappreciated just because he spent his entire career, most of his career, on the West Coast. If this guy’s playing in Toronto or Montreal or New York or one of those markets, he’s a living legend. He’s that good and he’s that impressive a guy.
2. Thornton Held the Record for Most Career Points Without a Stanley Cup Final Appearance
With 1,341 points over an 18-year span in the NHL, Thornton held the record for most career points without a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Until now, that is.
Thornton was the first overall pick by the Boston Bruins in the 1997 draft and has has been one of the league’s elite offensive talents for nearly two decades.
Many expect him to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but winning a Stanley Cup would certainly help solidify his case.
After the Sharks Game 6 victory against the Blues, NBC Sports asked Thornton who he preferred to play in the Final. “I’ll play ‘em both,” he said. “If they want to dress 40 guys, I’ll play ‘em both.”
Thornton has won a Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Olympic gold medal. Now he finally has a chance to grab hold of the Stanley Cup hardware.
3. Thornton was Shockingly Traded to the Sharks in the Post-Lockout Season of 2006
The San Jose Sharks acquired Thornton from the Boston Bruins for three players in 2006. The two teams were at the bottom of the NHL, desperate to turn around dismal seasons.
The trade came as a shock for many Bruins fans and for Thornton himself.
Just four months earlier, Thornton signed a three-year, $20 million contract with Boston, where he had been the club’s captain for the previous three seasons.
Following the blockbuster trade, Thornton told ESPN:
I was blindsided. On the one hand it’s disappointing, and on the other it’s good to start over again. When you don’t win, there’s going to be changes.
Obviously [the Bruins] believe in their coach and their general manager, and I’m next in line, so I’ve got to move on. … I came back here to win, and we haven’t been winning. Whose fault is that? I’m not sure, but I’m out of here, so it must be mine.
In 2006, Thornton became the first player to win an MVP award after being traded midseason.
He went on to play a pivotal role in transforming the Sharks into a consistent contender.
4. Thornton was Stripped of His Captaincy in 2014, but Never Asked for a Trade
Last season was an odd year for both Thornton and the Sharks. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since his 2005-06 midseason arrival to San Jose.
Rewind two years. The Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference First Round, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games.
Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons, the Sharks became notorious for a string of postseason letdowns. However, the 2014 postseason collapse against the Kings was the biggest of them all.
Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the most tenured Sharks, carried the brunt of the blame for the team’s shortcomings.
Thornton and Marleau received heavy criticism for the Sharks inability to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Before the 2014-15 season, Former Sharks coach Todd McLellan stripped the “C” from Thornton and Marleau.
Thornton’s name frequently came up in trade rumors over that summer. However, Thornton, who had a no-movement clause in his contract, never asked the Sharks to trade him.
Following Wednesday’s Western Conference Final win, San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer said it’s hard for him to fathom the criticism Thornton and Marleau have received.
He told ESPN:
I can’t put it into words because I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine, because all I’ve seen them is the year I’ve spent with them and how hard these guys work every day, how committed they are, how badly they want to win.
I don’t think that’s changed over the last 10 years. I just think for whatever reason it hasn’t come together. So I can’t imagine the stuff written about them and said about them that they’ve had to deal with. It’s a great night for those guys.
The two will take the ice in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their careers on Monday night.
5. Thornton Earns $6.75 Million per Season
Thornton is in the second season of a three-year extension worth $20.25 million, one he signed during the 2013-14 campaign. The deal averages $6.75 million per season.
Thornton is under contract through the 2016-17 season and though he no longer wears the ‘C,’ he remains the face of the Sharks franchise.
Following next season, Thornton, who has said he’d like to play into his 40s, will become an unrestricted free agent.
In 2016, Celebrity Net Worth estimated Thornton’s net worth to be $60 million.