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Joe Thornton Deserves Nothing

When did the universe decide it was his turn?

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San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It shouldn’t surprise me that there are people in the hockey world who can think about one of David Perron and Joe Thornton without immediately thinking about the other, but it does.

I don’t have it in me.

Every time Perron is on the ice, you can see the mark Thornton left on him with your own eyes. The tinted visor Perron wears is a piece of equipment he picked up after Thornton delivered a chicken wing elbow on his way out of the penalty box and knocked Perron out with a concussion that would eliminate the next 100 games of his career.

Pierre LeBrun penned a fawning profile of Thornton that makes a case for him as this year’s Ray Bourque or Dave Andreychuk. It’s been 21 seasons, LeBrun exhorts. Certainly that’s enough. Certainly he *deserves* to be a champion after all that time.

Check back in 30 years, Jumbo.

Alexander Steen has been waiting 14 seasons for a Stanley Cup. Jay Bouwmeester is wrapping up his 16th. Steve Ott also went 14 years as a player without one, and Craig Berube struck out for 17. And, of course, Bob Plager has been waiting 52 years for a Stanley Cup to come to St. Louis. So, perhaps you’ll forgive me if I don’t get up in my feelings about Thornton.

It’s easy to understand why Thornton makes for an appealing story. He’s played exclusively in two big, coastal markets, and he’s been the face of a franchise that’s become known for postseason futility. He’s also an engaging guy and a good quote; for a writer looking for a story, guys like Thornton are godsends. He’s also an elite player and almost certainly bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Guys like that draw a lot of sympathy water.

The thing that gets wiped away about Thornton is that he’s also dirty. The elbow to Perron was delivered nearly nine years ago. The one to Vegas’s Tomas Nosek was barely three weeks ago. Thornton was suspended for a game against Vegas in round one on an incredibly similar play that, shucks, he just couldn’t have seen coming.

“I honestly thought I barely touched him. He came right back,” Thornton said at the time. “It was just one of those plays, it is what it is. I think my son hits me like that six times a day. Just a weird position he put himself in, that’s all.”

If Thornton’s son hits him like that six times a day, perhaps his memory and focus can be excused. Perron came back too, after all. He scored the winning goal in the game in which he was concussed, and then he disappeared into the ether.

The claims of league and media bias against the Blues are ramping up in parallel with the Thornton story. The NHL PR account tweeted a graphic Thursday which excluded any discussion of the Blues entirely. I don’t believe there’s an overarching decree to tamp down the St. Louis narrative, but the rise of things like that in parallel with the Thornton praise is sure to send eyes rolling and hackles raising.

Of the six franchises which were part of the 1967 NHL expansion, the Blues are the only one of the five remaining active which haven’t won a Stanley Cup. The defunct team, the California Seals, was absorbed into the Minnesota North Stars (from Cleveland), so even they can trace a trace of championship lineage. The only team with as long a drought as the Blues is the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they were the reigning Cup champions as St. Louis entered the league.

I have no doubt that television producers would prefer a shot of tears rolling down Joe Thornton’s matted grey beard to a shot of Jay Bouwmeester’s slight bemusement. I’m certain he’s a great quote and interesting guy who totally rocked the ESPN Body Issue. I’m even willing to entertain the notion that he’s one of the more tormented players in the NHL.

But not the most. He doesn’t get to wear that crown this year, in this series. He doesn’t carry a fraction of the playoff agony and unresolved torment that the St. Louis Blues bear in bundles and heaps. He’s just a guy who throws around dirty elbows and can’t get the job done when everything is on the line.

Take the sob story elsewhere, because I’m already bored to tears.