Apparently, the Sharks just can’t have nice things.
At 5-1 coming off the bye week and after just capping a 3-0 comeback against the team with the second-most points in the Western Conference, the Sharks lost Joe Thornton—probably for several weeks.
It was going so well for this team, too.
Thornton, who has been scoring at a clip not seen since he was a much younger player with a much shorter beard, fell victim to a freak third-period play in which Mikkel Boedker seemed to get his skates tangled with Andrew Copp causing the pair to slide into the back of Thornton’s right knee. The former Sharks captain immediately limped off the ice and into the dressing room, and about three minutes later, the Sharks lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the first possession of overtime.
There’s some good to take away from the loss—the Sharks walk away with a valuable point, and they can take confidence from a gritty three-goal comeback against a true Western Conference power. That being said, we all know what Joe Thornton means to this team. He’s the franchise leader in almost every statistical category and was every bit the future Hall of Famer this season with 13 Goals and 23 Assists for 36 points (including 7 Power Play goals).
With the departure of Patrick Marleau, Thornton has picked up the slack on the Sharks attack, shooting at a much higher rate than previous years, and is on pace to find the back of the net more than he has in well over a decade. In basketball terms, losing Thornton is like losing Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul. He does so much when he’s on the court that doesn’t show up in the box score that there’s a palpable difference when he’s not out there. Like Paul, the offense flows through Thornton, and losing that is going to hurt.
According to GM Doug Wilson, Joe Thornton will be out “several weeks,” with damage to his right MCL. This is obviously not great news, but better than the alternative—Thornton had surgery in the offseason to repair an ACL/MCL tear in is left knee. Another ACL tear would have likely ended his season and possibly his career. Another reason to be optimistic is the fact that it wasn’t the left knee that was surgically repaired in the offseason, which could have made a full recovery this year more complicated.
With the trade deadline approaching, Thornton’s injury puts the Sharks in an even more difficult spot. As we discussed on the show, depth is already an issue for Peter DeBoer’s squad, and replacing Jumbo Joe will be no easy task. Logan Couture, who is having a fantastic season in his own right, will most likely have to move up to the first line to slot between Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier. You may also see Tomas Hertl, a natural center who’s played wing for most of his NHL career, moved back to the second line pivot with Kevin LeBanc and Melker Karlsson.
I do believe that DeBoer likes the mismatch the offensively capable but defensively responsible third line of Tierney, Boedker, Donskoi makes against other teams, so I don’t see that line changing much. Also, look for the Sharks to recall Marcus Sorensen from the Barracuda to get time on that fourth line with Barclay Goodrow, Joel Ward, and/or Jannik Hansen.
As far as the longer-term outlook for this season goes, I don’t see the Sharks being major players for Max Pacioretty or John Tavares, both guys whom the hockey media will obsess over around the trade deadline. They just don’t have the pieces to acquire either of those guys. Both of whom will command a king’s ransom of picks and prospects—assets on which, as we’ve discussed, the Sharks are quite thin.
Instead, the Sharks will likely make a deal for a lesser tier forward that can still make a significant impact. Montreal C/W Alex Galchenyuk’s (Gol-chen-yuck) name will be repeated as rumored to the Sharks, as well as New York Rangers wingers Rick Nash—a rangy power forward like Thornton—and Michael Grabner.
It’s good news that this injury isn’t season-ending. Thornton will be out a minimum two weeks, probably more, but it could have been much worse. The Sharks are going to have to tread water in the Pacific Division during that time. If they can do that and get Thornton back at 100% for a playoff run, then you can see this team go deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.