Joe’s Woes

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I’ll be honest. I had notions, early on in this post-season, when it was apparent to me that Joe Thornton and his San Jose Sharks were on their way to a first round knockout at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, that I would sit down and write a scathing expose on Jumbo Joe’s consistent, relentless playoff failure.

You must admit, even the most ardent admirer of the Team in Teal, would agree the time had come. Going into the playoffs as commanding President’s Cup winners, hot on the heels of a sensationally successful regular season that saw them put up an impressive 53-18-11 record, going a commanding 32-5-4 at home. They had earned that home ice advantage and they were built for the playoffs, with depth, experience and goaltenting.

Supposedly.

In the end, it was disppointment alley again as the Ducks beat them handily in 6 games to send Joe and his mates off to some more early spring golfing. If they hurry they can still catch up to some of their pals from the Phoenix Coyotes or the New York Islanders. All that regular season success and what real difference is there now between them and such woebegotten franchises? Not much.

So, yeah, here I was all set to compose a torrid diatribe on Why Joe Thornton Can Never Win and why he had to be traded from the Boston Bruins in order for them to progress to the Stanley Cup contenders they currently are. Why he should never be a team captain on any team. I had all the stats ready to post, the ignominious record of the Sharks’ miserable blunders and missed opportunities in the early rounds of the playoffs since they acquired him, none more glaring than this year’s.

But my heart’s just not in it anymore.

Now I just feel bad for him.

Y’see I like Joe. I always have. When he was here in Boston, at least early on, I worshipped the kid. A big, rangy, talented number one overall pick with hands of spun gold. A sublime playmaker who was big enough to hold his own in any physical confrontation. He’d drop the gloves on occasion which endeared him to the Bruins faithful and, aside from getting tagged by Eric Lindros once, he was a decent scrapper. That kind of skill and show a little moxie and you’d think people here would be building statues of him outisde Faneuil Hall.

Not the case, however. Whether is was his fault or not is easily debated and many learned Bruins fans would point to a stingy ownership and clueless management (hello, Mike O’Connell) when assessing the team’s failures in that era. As time wore on, however, and the frustration mounted and the faithful began to turn their backs on their beloved Spoked B, it became evident, even to a weasel like O’Connell, that something needed to be done. So on November 30th, 2005, the trigger was pulled and off went Joe to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau.

I was pissed. Horrified. I’d been an O’Connell hater since day one and I felt that giving someone so obviously imcompetent at his job that sort of authority, to trade away the goddamned Franchise, was utter sports suicide. I mean, the guy went on that same year to lead the league in scoring and win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. And all you got back was a defenseman on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent, an 25 goal scorer and a dime-a-dozen 4th line center?!? By any rational standard, it was a horrific trade. The only real good that came out of it was that it sealed Mike O’Connell’s fate and he was later fired before he could do any more damage and Peter Chiarelli, a real GM, was hired.

Still, looking back, it’s hard to argue that it needed to be done. I always said, it wasnt’ that he was traded that irked me but what was received in return. It was piddling compensation for a player who is inarguably one the league’s elite talents. That said, it’s been a steady upward climb for the team ever since he left and now they sit poised for ever greater glory in the 2009 Playoffs, winning back the attention and the hearts of a city that had forsaken them.

So, yes, I guess there was every indication back then that the team might never win as it was, built around an easy going, laid back playmaking center like Joe. That making him captain at such a young age was a mistake, that he wasn’t ready to shoulder that burden, that he might never be ready. That that sort of leadership is just not part of his makeup. I see that the folks in San Jose agree with that notion, choosing Patrick Marleau to wear the ‘C’ over him.

This, of course, may lie at the heart of the problem of why he can’t seem to find his way to any post-season success. It may have something to do with the very person he is, the very way he approaches the game, with that even, almost carefree personality. No one can argue his talent and playmaking abitlity, but maybe it takes more than pure skill to be a winner. Maybe the problem is he admired his hero Wayne Gretzky too much and not a guy like Mark Messier enough. I don’t know.

I know I felt sad watching him trudge off the ice after the handshake last night, I really did. He went down that tunnel beneath the stands hunched over, head down, the weight of it all bearing down on him like the rubble of a collapsed building. Lord knows the grim thoughts coursing beneath that tousle of blonde surfer’s locks, troubling and darkening the otherwise smiling personality that is so genuinely and easily likable.

Maybe that’s part of the problem, too. Who knows?

So why don’t I just leave it like this. A great moment of old school hockey at the start of what was a very entertaining game last night. Featuring none other than Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Better luck next year, my friend.

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One Response to “Joe’s Woes”

  1. Emily Says:

    Even though the Sharks are rivals, I like Joe, too. He’s a good guy. That being said, I’ve got two words for him: TOUGH SHIT.

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