Joe Thornton is going to be an interesting test case for the Hockey Hall of Fame, even though he clearly should be a no-brainer. But no question there are those who will hold his lack of a Stanley Cup against him. Of course, he still has time to win one before his career is out. But even if he doesn’t, it would be ridiculous to make that argument against him. His career screams Hall of Famer.
The case for
Thornton, a consistent top-end point producer his entire career, sits at 36th all-time in regular-season points with 1,259 (358 goals, 901 assists), ahead of Hall of Famers Michel Goulet, Bernie Federko, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Bossy and Glenn Anderson, among others.
And he’s still got a few more seasons left in his career. For example, say the 36-year-old center plays three more seasons, and I’m very conservative here in projecting 60 points a year. That puts him on pace for 1,439 points, which would rank him 16th all-time, sandwiched between Teemu Selanne and Bryan Trottier.
As it stands, his 901 assists are 19th all-time already, one away from passing Trottier.
Thornton has also proved to be a puck possession darling, as advanced stats take hold of the way we break down the game. By the time his Hall of Fame debate comes up years from now, that will endear him further.
The case against
The knock against Thornton is his perceived lack of playoff performances. That reputation was largely formed in his younger days in Boston, when his higher-seeded Bruins failed to advance far in the playoffs.
Thornton has 100 playoff points (24 goals, 76 assists) in 132 games. I know a lot of players who would take that.
As usual, the truth in judging Thornton’s playoff career is neither black nor white -- the reality somewhere in the gray.
No question there have been some postseasons in which Jumbo didn’t play his best, especially in 2014, when his San Jose Sharks coughed up a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings. But Thornton has had many big playoff runs. I think especially of the 2011 trip to the conference finals, in which Thornton played through a separated shoulder in the final game against the Vancouver Canucks. In those back-to-back conference finals in 2010 and 2011, Thornton had 29 points (six goals, 23 assists) in 33 playoff games, that’s answering the bell.
I think you know my vote: Joe Thornton is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. His numbers suggest as much. If he never ends up winning a Cup, the Olympic gold medalist would be no different than other non-Cup, HOFers such as Mats Sundin, Marcel Dionne, Pavel Bure and Cam Neely -- deserving inductees whose lack of NHL championships didn't count against them.
ESPN panel: 67 percent voted into Hockey Hall of Fame.