Sharks jersey retirements: Why Joe Thornton should be honored first

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Joe Thornton should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with Joe Thornton.

The history of the Sharks can be split into two eras: Before Joe Thornton, and after Joe Thornton.

It’s befitting of a man nicknamed “Jumbo,” as San Jose’s acquisition of the probable Hall of Famer from the Boston Bruins on Nov. 30, 2005 marks the biggest turning point in the franchise’s history. The Sharks were no longer "up-and-coming” after the Thornton trade: His arrival meant they had arrived.

Thornton’s presence began an era in which San Jose climbed to the NHL’s elite, in large part on the back of his superstardom. Let’s examine the case for, and against, the Sharks retiring Thornton’s No. 19 jersey first. 

The case for

Save for Brent Burns’ run on defense over the last handful of seasons, no Shark has been as dominant at their peak as Thornton. He remains the only San Jose player to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, leading the league in scoring and winning MVP honors in the season he was traded to the Sharks. 

Thornton owns three of the four 90-point seasons in Sharks franchise history, scoring 92, 114 and 96 points, respectively, from 2005-06 through 2007-08. The fourth belongs to Jonathan Cheechoo, who led the league in goal-scoring in 2005-06 with 56 goals. Forty-nine of those goals came after Thornton was acquired. 

Cheechoo, Devin Setoguchi, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and even Burns all took their goal-scoring to the next level playing on Thornton’s wing. He is one of the best passers of all time, and his dominance is reflected on the Sharks’ all-time scoring charts: Thornton owns eight of the 10 highest single-season assist totals in San Jose history, and is 206 helpers clear in first place on the team's all-time list. 

Despite his absence on the NHL’s list of its 100 greatest players of all-time, Thornton simply is one of the best to ever play the sport. He’s the best player in franchise history, and his best years came in San Jose. This should be an open-and-shut case. 

The case against 

It’s not clear-cut for the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, however, because of the No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft. Thornton very well could pass Marleau on the Sharks’ all-time points list -- he’s 59 shy of doing so -- but he would need to play 460 more games for San Jose to surpass Marleau.  

He undoubtedly has had a more productive career than Marleau, but tenure and sentimentality should count for something when it comes to jersey retirements, which are about a place in team history as much as anything else. Thornton and Marleau were simultaneous faces of the franchise during their shared Sharks tenure -- for better or worse -- and something would seem off about retiring one before the other.

Plus, Thornton doesn’t seem ready to retire any time soon. He has not yet re-signed with the Sharks, but he told reporters at June’s NHL Awards in Las Vegas that he is thinking about playing this upcoming season and beyond. 

If -- and it’s a big if -- Thornton plays into his mid-40s a la Chris Chelios and Jaromir Jagr, would the Sharks wait until he calls it a career before lifting the first number into SAP Center’s rafters? They’ve gone nearly three decades without doing so, but Marleau retiring from the sport before Thornton could mean No. 12 gets raised first. 

[RELATED: Sharks reportedly 'don't want' reunion with Marleau next year]


The Sharks can’t go wrong with retiring Thornton’s number first. Thornton likely will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame as the first player primarily remembered for their time in teal, and he’ll also be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time. 

Whether you want him or Marleau to have their number retired first, it’s clear that one of them will. But, we’ll pose one question as a counterargument in Friday’s series finale.

Why not both?

Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?

The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Owen Nolan's jersey retirement
The case for -- and against -- Joe Pavelski's jersey retirement

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team


How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

[RELATED: Why Sharks expect Meier to take step forward]

That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

[RELATED: Listen to Jumbo Joe mic'd up at a recent Sharks practice]

Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.