Has Joe Thornton Become a Power Play Specialist?

Updated: July 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm by Alexander Monaghan

Yesterday, TSN’s Scott Cullen released the Best and Worst Even-Strength Goal-Scorers, leading yours truly to question the merit of drafting Joe Thornton. A cursory glance at the worst goal-scorers at even-strength said very little to me. We already knew players like Matt Cullen, Ryan Shannon and Joel Ward were power play specialists, heck, that’s why we rostered them in our deeper leagues. But Jumbo Joe is supposed to be an elite player — one that will help carry you in assists, PPP and +/- while not killing you in any other category.

Coming off an awful, by his benchmark, 21-goal, 70-point season it is hard to argue that a 33-year-old centerman with 13 NHL seasons on his legs can bounce back. After all Thornton failed to reach 60 assists for the first time since the lockout with arguably the most talented team he has ever been surrounded by. In fact, when you compare him to the younger Logan Couture, it seems like his days as the number-one pivot may be numbered.

Back on topic, Thornton finished last season with only 10 even-strength goals which registered as a .49 ESG/60 minutes. When you put that in comparison with the rest of his lowered totals, only 44 points came at even strength which represents a sharp decline from his previous seasons. See the chart below, for consistency we will only use Thornton’s stats as a San Jose Shark, especially since he will be drafted as that in September/October.

Year Even-Strength Points Power Play Points Total Points*
’05 – ’06 52 40 92
’06 – ’07 60 54 114
’07 – ’08 59 37 96
’08 – ’09 51 35 86
’09 – ’10 60 29 89
’10 – ’11 37 33 70

*We chose to omit a split of goals and assists mainly because we knew what we get here with Thornton — a 70/30 split favoring assists. Like most playmaking centers, he is the setup artist, not the triggerman.

The above table tells us a few things. One, Thornton has always been an excellent producer on the power play. Furthermore, his power play points ranked actually higher than the previous season. Unfortunately for long-term owners and fans his production would appear to be declining over the past two seasons and certainly from ’05 – ’08. While his shooting percentage in both seasons — 14.1 and 14.2, respectively — falls close to his career average of 14.8 his luck and likely skills appear on the decline at a moderate pace.

With the Sharks changing their image with two blockbuster trades thought to bring added skill and speed, Thornton could appear as the old regime. Next season he likely lines up between Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski while Ryane Clowe, Martin Havlat and Couture man the second line. Will these two lines alternate in importance? If Havlat’s agent has anything to do with it, maybe. Nevertheless, consider Thornton at the fourth round or later as a decline in production mixed with a lessened role should scare off more than just me.

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