Slapshot Fantasy

At 36, Joe Thornton still valuable fantasy playmaker

There is no denying that hockey, like many sports, is a young man’s game. Players routinely make their debut before turning 20 years old and become stars relatively quickly. It feels like there are more and more examples of this every year.

Ironically, fantasy owners will likely also remember this season as the year that several old time veterans still had quite a bit of fantasy value.

Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr is the leading man in that category. He has 21 goals and 48 points with a plus-16 rating in 61 games this season, and Jagr is doing it at the ripe age of 44. At 37, Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk is back to his old form too.

But lately, there hasn’t been anyone better in fantasy hockey over the age of 35 than San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton. He is tied with the team lead in points as the Sharks are in position to make the playoffs once again.

Owners with Thornton are likely poised to do the same.

The 36-year-old has 15 goals, 61 points and a plus-23 rating in 63 games this season. He is ranked in the top 10 among all league skaters in points and plus-minus. His 46 assists are ranked third best in the NHL, behind only Erik Karlsson and Patrick Kane.

October 21, 2014: San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton (19). The Boston Bruins defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-3 in a regular season NHL game at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

After a very disappointing 2014-15 season which saw the Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade, many fantasy owners believed Thornton was done as a big fantasy force. He only had 16 goals and 65 points with a minus-4 rating in 78 games. It was the first time since 2000-01 that Thornton had a negative rating for an entire season. The year before, he only had 11 goals but did have 65 assists thus giving him 76 points in 82 games.

Thornton, however, is on pace to surpass last season’s numbers by next week and could even post some of his best statistics in quite some time. It’s certainly possible for Thornton to reach the 20-goal and 80-point marks. If he manages to do that, it would be the first time he accomplishes both of those in the same season since 2009-10.

The Sharks center has a chance to achieve that because of his recent hot streak. He only scored four goals in the first 29 games of the season, but over the last 34 games, he has 11 goals, 45 points and a plus-19 rating. Fifteen of his 45 points during that stretch have come on the power play.

Since January 9, Thornton has been even better. He has eight goals and 34 points with a plus-17 rating in the last 25 games. After the All-Star break, he has six goals and 20 points. That’s tied with Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf with second-most in the league behind only McDavid.

Thornton is averaging 1.33 points per game since the break, which is tied for the most with Crosby among players with at least six games played.

Interestingly, the 36-year old has been able to go on this hot streak without getting more pucks to the net. Actually, fewer of his shots have reached the goaltender since the middle of December.

Over the last 34 games, Thornton is averaging 1.2 shots on net per game. For the season, he averages about 1.5 shots on goal per contest. He has benefitted from his 15.6 shooting percentage, which is his best since 2008-09. It also helps that his teammates are capitalizing on his passes, making Thornton a leader in the assists category. San Jose’s fourth-best power play in the league certainly helps too.

Thornton won’t help many teams win the shots category, but he is a great asset in every other category. Even his 44 penalty minutes are pretty good. He is on pace for his most PIM since 2007-08.

All due respect to Jagr and Datsyuk, but Thornton is the best fantasy asset over the age of 35. Not only does Thornton find himself the only player in that age bracket in the top 10 in scoring, he is the only player older than 35 ranked in the top 30.

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