Joe Thornton officially passed Adam Oates on the NHL’s all-time scoring list in the most fitting way possible: With an assist.
No, Thornton’s secondary setup on Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s odd overtime-winner against the Coyotes on Saturday won’t be confused with the tape-to-tape passes that made Thornton and Oates famous. A milestone is a milestone, however.
After all, it was point no. 1421 of his career, and moved Thornton into sole possession of 17th in league history. This season alone, Thornton has passed Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri, Dale Hawerchuk, and Doug Gilmour on the all-time scoring list, as well as Oates.
Bryan Trottier, with 1425 points, is the next player Thornton can pass, while Teemu Selanne is 36 points ahead of the Sharks center. Trottier, Selanne, and every remaining player ahead of Thornton is immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
If that notion seems obvious, well, it is. But what should normally go without saying bears repeating as Thornton enters the twilight of his career.
So, here goes: Thornton is a mortal lock for enshrinement in Toronto, and Sharks fans should not take that fact for granted.
He won’t be the first former Shark to gain entry, but he’ll easily be the most significant. Thornton’s played 403 more games in teal than the five San Jose alumni in the Hall of Fame have combined.
Once he passes Selanne, he’ll have passed all five on the career scoring list. Even if he calls it quits when his contract expires at the end of the season, he’ll finish his career in the top 10 in all-time assists and top 15 in total scoring. At minimum.
A Stanley Cup has eluded him in San Jose, and the absence of a title will continue to unfairly follow him long after he retires. Even without the silverware, though, he still firmly deserves to be remembered as one of the best players in the sport’s history.
The Bay Area has seen its fair share of great players, and Thornton will end his career as accomplished as nearly any athlete in the region’s history, too. His greatness may not exceed that of Bonds, Mays, Montana, Rice, or (eventually) Curry, but a place among the NHL’s highest scorers at least puts him in the conversation.
As long as he plays, whether in the Bay Area or elsewhere, cherish Thornton while you can. A player of his caliber does not, and will not, come around often.