Hockey is not the place for sentimentality. Now more than ever, it ruthlessly weeds out the old from the young. Most analytics studies today are showing a player’s scoring average starts to drop off significantly by age 29. Which makes Joe Thornton’s continued regular presence as a forward so remarkable at age 39.
That Thornton is still playing - this is his 21st NHL season - has made him the sentimental favorite among hockey’s casual fans to get what would be his first Stanley Cup this spring. “Win it for Joe” is a common refrain heard around San Jose and many other hockey ports.
What a nice story it would be, right, the old, bearded man finally hoisting the Cup after more than two decades of futility?
Is all this just a little too sappy, though, for NHL betting fans to buy in? Thornton - and the Sharks - have never won a Cup before, so why will this year be any different. Why should anyone go ahead and place a bet on the Sharks to win it all, currently at +320 (16/5) at 888Sport, especially after they just lost Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on home ice to the St. Louis Blues?
1. It Might Just Be A “Team Of Destiny” Thing
What if the universe just wants to the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup, and that’s all there is to it? That won’t win me any prizes at the Sloan Analytics Conference for that rationale, but how does one rationally explain what the Sharks have done so far in these playoffs?
They were down 3-0 in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, midway through the third period, then lost their captain, Joe Pavelski, to a scary-looking head injury after being taken down by Cody Eakin.
The Sharks then had pixie dust sprinkled onto their teal uniforms. First off, the Sharks caught a major break from the referees when Eakin was assessed a five-minute major penalty when further replays showed he really wasn’t all that aggressive toward Pavelski.
The Sharks then scored four power-play goals in the five minutes. They lost the 4-3 lead in the final minute, but won the game in overtime - one game after beating Vegas in OT of Game 6 on a really soft, shorthanded goal in a game Vegas was dominating.
People who calculate statistical probabilities say the odds of the Sharks winning, when down 3-0 at that time of the game, were 1.2 percent.
Then, in the second round, against the Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks played the first six games without Pavelski, with each team winning three. All of a sudden, Pavelski comes out of mothballs not only to play Game 7, but scores the Sharks’ first goal in a 3-2 win.
OK, so the Sharks looked pretty thoroughly outplayed in Game 2 by the Blues, who now have home-ice advantage in the series. Well, the Sharks lost each home Game 2 of their first two series, so what’s the point?
Every once in a while, a team comes along that maybe shouldn’t have won it, but destiny was on their side. The Sharks have really looked like one of those teams, to this point.
2. Old Guys and Recent History
It really seemed like Ray Bourque would play 22 years in the NHL and never lift the Cup, especially after his Colorado team blew a rubber Game 5 at home in the 2001 Cup Finals to New Jersey, with Game 6 back at the home of the defending champion Devils.
But the Avalanche outscored New Jersey 7-1 from there, and the iconic pictures of Bourque raising the Cup aloft in his final game are seen all over the place in the Pepsi Center.
In 2004, Dave Andreychuk was in his 22nd NHL season and still without a Cup, despite playing on many excellent teams. His Tampa Bay Lightning were also down 3-2 in the Cup Finals against the Flames, with Game 6 in Calgary, but the Lightning prevailed in OT and won a nail-biter Game 7.
And, who can forget last year, when Alexander Ovechkin finally raised the Cup after 12 years of playoff heartbreak on many excellent Washington Capitals clubs? Many pundits thought the Caps’ Cup window was closed by then, but fate thought otherwise.
The point here: While hockey might seem like the least sentimental of the major sports, with its punishing playoffs and youthful makeup, the fact is that many old guys who had gone so long without being rewarded finally were - so why not Joe Thornton?
3. Oh, Yeah, The Sharks Are A Really Good Team
Did we forget to mention that this is a good hockey team? The Sharks have three great defensemen in Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the top goal-scorer of the postseason so far (Logan Couture), a goalie who has been solid so far (Martin Jones) and really experienced veterans, such as Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
Go ahead and bet against the Sharks if you must. But keep in mind: You may be betting against destiny.