What's it like to play with 'legend' Joe Thornton? Young linemates answer

What's it like to play with 'legend' Joe Thornton? Young linemates answer

SAN JOSE – A little over twelve hours had passed between Joe Thornton scoring his 400th career goal and the Sharks practicing the following morning. But the excitement over the 39-year-old forward scoring the milestone goal hadn’t faded.

“It was so much fun,” Kevin Labanc told NBC Sports California, unable to suppress a smile. “The whole building just erupted.”

The goal, which capped off Team Teal’s late-game come-from-behind victory over the Nashville Predators, isn’t necessarily a stand-alone moment. It’s a testament of how hard Thornton has worked to get to this point – battling against injuries to not just reach milestones, but to keep inspiring his teammates.

“He’s honestly a legend,” said Labanc, who has recently spent time playing Thornton’s wing. “He’s just a great guy on and off the ice. Always so positive. You see the work he puts in every single day.”

Thornton’s 2017-18 campaign was cut short after he sustained a knee injury in late January. After participating in training camp and playing the first two games of the 2018-19 season, an infection in his surgically-repaired knee left him sidelined for nine games. 

Since returning to action at the end of October, No. 19 has put in the time to improve with each passing game. That work ethic and level of compete is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“It just makes him that much more special,” Labanc continued. “That’s a lot of recovery and rehab, and for him to come back and be just as good as he is… It’s just incredible.”

Part of that success coming back to the lineup has been the chemistry he has found with some of his younger teammates. Since being placed at the center of San Jose de facto third line, Thornton has built undeniable chemistry with Swedish winger Marcus Sorensen.

In fact, it was Sorensen who set Thornton up for his 400th goal.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Sorensen said multiple times when recalling setting up the goal.

When asked how the two of them have been able to create such good chemistry, Sorensen said it comes down to communication.

“He’s really good at talking to me on the ice,” Sorensen said.

Labanc, who slotted in on Thornton’s wing opposite Sorensen on Tuesday night, agreed. “You really get to understand Joe more once you get to play with him,” he explained. “You understand his tendencies and how he plays in the offensive zone.”

Whether it’s on the ice or off it’s clear Thornton’s drive is helping push the Sharks along, whether that means notching a milestone goal or playing part in a come-from-behind victory.

“It gives the whole team momentum,” Labanc said. “Because if he’s doing it, the rest of us have no excuse.”

NHL free agency: Will Erik Karlsson's health affect Sharks signing him?

NHL free agency: Will Erik Karlsson's health affect Sharks signing him?

SAN JOSE – Ever since arriving in San Jose last September, Erik Karlsson’s tenure as a Shark has been riddled with questions.

Questions as to when he would get on the scoreboard when he started off the season pointless. Questions as to why he was participating in the NHL All-Star Game when he was too hurt to pencil into his team’s roster on a nightly basis. Questions as to whether the Sharks would sign him to a deal that would keep him in teal past the 2019 season – which became even more of a mystery when he tweeted out a message to Sharks fans, thanking them for the season.

The latter question will be answered in good time with San Jose’s postseason run over and free agency on the horizon. Now, come the questions as to how much Karlsson’s injuries from this past season play into what happens to him next.

“I’m still in the process of figuring all that out so I can’t really give you a straight answer,” Karlsson said during exit interviews when asked about his overall health. “It’s nothing major. It’s just going to take some time and figure everything out. It should be something that’s easy to deal with. That’s as much as I know.”

Karlsson missed 29 games over the regular season with a suspected groin injury, which first took him out of the Sharks’ lineup just before the All-Star break. Following his return in the final game of the regular season, the conversation continued into the playoffs regarding how healthy he really was.

While Karlsson appeared more and more healthy as the Sharks advanced through two rounds of the playoffs, he began to show signs he was ailing during the Western Conference final, and eventually missed Game 6.
The defenseman didn’t expand on the extent to which he was injured, only saying he was one of many Sharks’ skater who wasn’t playing at 100-percent.

“Everybody is dealing with something,” Karlsson insisted. “You have to play through things.” 

Karlsson also didn’t give any indication as to what kind of rehab process he will have to go through over the offseason, although he insisted his health wouldn't get in his way.

“All I know is it’s not going to be anything that will be a problem moving forward,” he said. “I’m going to be able to have a normal summer with training and everything and getting ready. That’s great.”

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told the press he didn’t know yet if any injured players on the team would need surgery in the offseason, including Karlsson. When asked if Karlsson’s health played a factor in whether the team tried to sign him to a long-term deal, Wilson didn’t lean one way or the other.

“I’m still in the reflection mode of this year, just starting to meet with players, meet with coaches,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of guys who have contracts up, and out of respect to them, we don’t discuss that.”

[RELATED: Sharks emerge from playoff run with lengthy injury list]

Karlsson does appear interested, however, in testing out the market.

“I’ve worked hard for 10 years in this league to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve earned that,” he said of being an unrestricted free agent. “I’ll do everything I can to make the best decision for myself and for the team that is going to want me.”

How much his health plays into that decision, still remains to be seen. 

NHL free agency: Erik Karlsson thanks Sharks in possible goodbye tweet


NHL free agency: Erik Karlsson thanks Sharks in possible goodbye tweet

The Erik Karlsson era could be coming to an end after only one season in San Jose. 

Karlsson becomes a free agent at the end of Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks' star defenseman sent a thank you note to the team's fans and the whole Bay Area on Friday. 

San Jose acquired Karlsson, who turns 29 on May 31, from the Senators for four players and two draft picks on Sept. 13, 2018. The two-time Norris Trophy award winner was named to his fourth straight NHL All-Star Game in his first season as a Shark. 

Karlsson played in 53 regular-season games this year, his lowest since the 2012-13 season. He tallied 45 points -- three goals, 42 assists. 

Injuries, however, played a large role in Karlsson's season. He missed 27 of the Sharks' final 33 regular-season games with various ailments. And he missed the Sharks' season-ending Game 6 loss to the Blues in the Western Conference final.

[RELATED: Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers]

Karlsson is expected to be pursued by multiple teams this offseason, including the Sharks. But he could have just said his last goodbye to The Tank and all its fans in San Jose.