Why Tomas Hertl won't forget playing with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns

Why Tomas Hertl won't forget playing with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns

Tomas Hertl’s memorable start to his NHL career came alongside a former Hart Trophy winner and a future Norris Trophy winner.

The Czech forward’s first Sharks linemates were Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, who then-San Jose coach Todd McLellan moved up from defense during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Hertl scored seven goals in his first five games, including a historic four-goal performance in his third.

Playing with Thornton and Burns allowed Hertl to debut in unforgettable fashion.

"Actually, it was the best line you could imagine: It was [Burnzie] and [Jumbo],” Hertl told ESPN’s Greg Wyshnski in a piece about past and present NHL players’ first linemates. “So it was actually a really big line, really fun line, because we were all over 6-[foot-]2 and 220, so it was a big and fun line. [Burnzie] was still playing forward.

“For me, or like anybody who started with Jumbo in his prime, it was really fun. Both these guys helped me a lot during my NHL career.”

The trio found instant chemistry during the 2013-14 season. Burns, Hertl and Thornton simply dominated opponents at even strength in just under 218 minutes together. They controlled, according to Natural Stat Trick:

  • 62.82 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts
  • 67.78 percent of the 5-on-5 expected goals
  • 70.33 percent of the 5-on-5 scoring chances
  • 73.75 percent of the 5-on-5 high-danger chances

Their time together was largely short-lived. Hertl underwent right knee surgery just 37 games into his NHL career, while Burns missed about a month early that season. McLellan didn’t immediately reunite the group when Hertl was healthy, instead keeping Joe Pavelski with Thornton and Burns.

Hertl, Burns and Thornton briefly reunited during the Sharks’ first-round Stanley Cup playoffs loss to the rival Los Angeles Kings, but the line didn’t score a 5-on-5 goal in that series as San Jose blew a three-games-to-none lead. They still generated a high share of quality chances, yet goals did not follow and the three never really got another look together upfront.

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Burns moved back to the blue line the following season, and it paid off with a Norris win in 2017 and two other top-three finishes in 2016 (third) and 2019 (second). Hertl and Thornton have played with a number of different linemates, including each other, since then.

It’s hard to envision a true reunion on a line whenever the NHL resumes play following the coronavirus pandemic, considering Burns’ position change and Thornton’s now playing in a bottom-six role. The chemistry they found with Hertl in his rookie season was special, though, and something that clearly has stuck with him ever since.

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer must be a strange experience for Sharks fans.

Sure, it's weird for every hockey fan watching games played in front of empty arenas in the middle of August during a global pandemic. But Sharks fans haven't spent much of the last few years as passive postseason observers, advancing to at least the Western Conference final in two of the four years preceding 2020.

There are plenty of intriguing storylines now that the playoff field has been whittled down to 16 teams. Which should Sharks fans pay attention to? Here's a guide to the postseason for San Jose supporters.

The Villains

Sharks fans' rooting interests in the playoffs can be best described as "Anyone but the Vegas Golden Knights." Not only did San Jose and Vegas square off in the last two postseasons, but the Golden Knights now are coached by former Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer.

You'd have a difficult time convincing teal diehards to root for Chicago in the first round, considering how many times "Chelsea Dagger" played in the Original Six franchise's Western Conference final sweep of the Sharks a decade ago. But when the alternative is seeing the DeBoer-led Golden Knights march toward a Stanley Cup, Sharks fans have an easy choice.

The Familiar Faces

My colleague in content Brian Witt highlighted some of the biggest former Sharks still playing for a Stanley Cup. Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski -- that's still odd to type -- leads the list, but there are quite a few players who once donned teal who are playing for hockey's ultimate prize.

The Eastern Conference could lead to some difficult rooting choices for Sharks fans, though. It's likely that two of the Philadelphia Flyers (Justin Braun), Tampa Bay Lightning (Barclay Goodrow) and Washington Capitals (Brenden Dillon) will square off, and each player still is looking for their first ring.

[RELATED: How Sharks benefit from Rangers winning NHL draft lottery]

The Jokes

Somewhat surprisingly, the NHL really has leaned into the weirdness of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs being played in two buildings -- Edmonton's Rogers Place and Toronto's Scotiabank Arena -- for audiences watching from their couches. There has been a tribute to the "fans" in attendance, a ban on the wave and even multiple appearances from designated hat throwers when a player scores a hat trick.

The NHL had to postpone a playoff game because Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena went to five overtimes. Columbus' official account then tweeted this.

The Sharks had some fun with it, too. Collectively commiserating over the playoffs' fundamental strangeness is going to lead to a lot more over the next couple months, even if San Jose isn't a part of the postseason.

Sharks post hilarious tweet during Lightning-Blue Jackets five-OT game

Sharks post hilarious tweet during Lightning-Blue Jackets five-OT game

The Sharks aren't involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But like many hockey fans, they were excited to take in the opening games of four first-round series on Tuesday, all back-to-back starting at noon PT.

So much so that they cleared their calendar.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets played the second of those four games, in what many expected to be a heated matchup after the Blue Jackets memorably upset and swept the Lightning in the first round last year. What they didn't expect, however, was that game going to an incredible fifth overtime and lasting well into the night.

Lightning forward Brayden Point ultimately ended the marathon at the 10:27 mark of the fifth OT, making it the fourth-longest game in NHL playoff history. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo stopped 85 of the first 87 shots he faced. He couldn't stop the 88th.

[RELATED: How Sharks benefit from Rangers winning NHL draft lottery]

Prior to the conclusion of the second game on Tuesday's slate, the league ultimately decided to move the fourth and final scheduled game between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes to 8 a.m. PT on Wednesday morning.

So, thanks to the Lightning and Blue Jackets, the Sharks can watch a full game before Wednesday's boring weekly meeting.

Well, that is unless it goes to a fifth OT.