Joe Thornton is one of those “big” hockey personalities.
Team personalities are one of the more underrated and oft-undervalued parts of a good hockey team, but there’s no getting around the fact that winning teams are made up of complementary personalities. Some of those are big, some of those are a little on the edge, and some of those are overly serious. After all — Jonathan Toews would be a bit too robotic without his goofy, hapless right hand man Patrick Kane, and it’s become pretty universally agreed upon that Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, though as different from one another as night and day, make each other better on the ice.
If Doug Wilson isn’t a fan of the Joe Thornton personality, he wouldn’t be the only one — some GM’s just don’t get along with certain guys, and some teammates are the same way.
Joe Thornton’s personality wasn’t sprung upon Wilson, though. Wilson, in fact, was the general manager that traded for the big center back in 2005, when he was still a relatively new GM in the league. Joe Thornton’s personality also doesn’t seem to affect his teammates, who have been rallying around him with an almost fierce protectiveness since the whole captain debacle went live.
So why is Mike Milbury suggesting Wilson send Thornton to the AHL?
If you haven’t seen that, take five minutes and watch this suggestion.
If that were even possible — which it isn’t, since Thornton is one of the veteran players around the league inked to a trade-protected and movement-protected contract through three seasons — it would be ridiculous. Joe Thornton is one of the most domineering presences on the ice and highest producing forwards in the league. Not just over his career, but even when you look at this season as a stand-alone.
It’s always an overlooked and plausible narrative that a player who is productive on the ice can be toxic off it, and that’s what this kind of suggestion implies.
We should all be against it.
As TSN’s Bob McKenzie says towards the final minutes of the intermission report, Joe Thornton isn’t the only player who has been on the ice for what they call the ‘worst best franchise ever’. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton aren’t even the only two — you’ve got a surprisingly well-tenured Joe Pavelski, a free-floating Brent Burns, a developing (though not at the speed many would have hoped) Logan Couture, you’ve got Marc-Edouard Vlasic — that have been around for all the disappointing playoff runs.
It’s kind of incredible to watch the controversy in San Jose reach the levels of controversy normally reserved for Toronto and Arizona — one of which is an on-ice nightmare, the other of which is still reeling from residual financial turmoil — when the Sharks haven’t missed the playoffs in a decade. As a matter of fact, Joe Thornton — who is still producing on the ice at a monstrous rate — has never led a San Jose team to miss the post-season.
Doug Wilson has never seen Joe Thornton lead his team to a lottery position in the NHL Draft, and he knew exactly what Thornton was like when he traded for him — after all, Thornton spent a chunk of time as captain in Boston before getting dealt to San Jose to make room for Patrice Bergeron as the focal point — so to have all the finger-pointing and name-calling directed at the tenured center reeks of a bigger problem lurking beneath the surface.
We’re laughing at Milbury’s suggestion for good reason — it’s impossible and completely ignores the kind of offensive production Thornton brings to the ice — but the fact that it’s even being suggested means that if Doug Wilson is trying to deflect the negative attention off himself, he’s actually done quite a good job.
It’s not an accusation, simply an observation — if the Sharks have a roster stuffed to the brim with players that have been around for the team’s annual post-season collapse and the management is still focusing all the negative attention on one of their stronger players, Doug Wilson could know the true problem with his team — and he’s working his hardest to keep it under wraps, because it’s likely little more than years of asset management gone awry.