Joe Thornton has won an MVP award, a scoring title and an Olympic gold medal. But the Stanley Cup has remained elusive as the Sharks have suffered repeated playoff disappointments. After helping San Jose advance to the conference finals last season for just the second time in franchise history, however, Thornton is confident that the Sharks will break through. How confident? He signed a three-year contract extension that actually trimmed his annual salary by $200,000. And for Thornton, it wasn't really that tough of a decision because he sees the team being built for long-term success.
ThePostGame.com: Do you draw any inspiration from other stars who had to go deep in their careers before winning a championship? Guys like Steve Yzerman, Peyton Manning, Kevin Garnett.
Thornton: Nothing comes easy in life. It's been a process. Every year it feels like we're getting closer and closer to ultimately getting our goal, which is the Stanley Cup. But right now the playoffs are still so far away. Right now, we're worried about Tuesday's game against Toronto. But winning the Stanley Cup is what you dream about since you were playing road hockey when you were 5 years old. Do I look at guys who were older when they won? Yeah, a little, but when your head's really in the game, it's tough to look past the next practice or next game.
ThePostGame.com: You missed two games earlier this season because of a league suspension for a hit to the head. There was some confusion at the time about the league's new rule on head shots. In the two months since it happened, has the rule become any more clear to you?
Thornton: It's going to be fuzzy for a while for a lot of the guys. A lot of people said it was a clean hit. Some people said it was a dirty hit. It's such a new rule and I don't think the rule is quite clear. The game is so fast and the players are so big now that it's a really tough call to make. At least they're trying to move in the right direction as far as head shots. But it's still unclear to the guys. As you see more games and see how they're calling it, hopefully it will become much more clear for the players.
ThePostGame.com: You were 23 when the Bruins named you their captain. Now you've become captain in San Jose. Anything from first experience of wearing the 'C' help you now?
Thornton: I was a such a young player back then. As a young player, you really don't know if players look up to you, and maybe you're not sure how to be in the locker room. But being an older guy now, it's much easier. Your confidence is so much higher. You know guys look up to you and respect what you have to say. It's really different being captain at at young age as opposed to now. I'm 31 years old and I'm a much different player and person now. Back then I think they just gave it to me because I was the best player on the team. Some times that's how things go. But I don't think that's necessarily the right way to pick your leadership group. Now I feel like I've earned it.
ThePostGame.com: Pat Burns, who was your first NHL coach, died of cancer in the fall. What's the one thing you learned from Pat that has stayed with you throughout your entire career.
Thornton: I learned from Pat to be a hockey rat -- he made me get to the rink early and stay there late. He really made me consumed by hockey. He was really, really hard on me, but that set me up for a long career. He wasn't easy on me, and as a young player, that's what you need. You need somebody to be firm with you and hard on you and watch you progress. The first year was tough on me, not playing so much. But him being hard on me was probably the best thing for me in hindsight. We had a great relationship after; I got what he was trying to do with me. It's just so sad that he passed away. He was loved by so many people in the hockey world. Just tragic to see him go, but he really fought there at the end. He helped many people along the way. There's a lot of great memories of Pat Burns that I'll still be sharing.
ThePostGame.com: Some of the younger guys on the Sharks like Logan Couture and Devin Setoguchi have started Twitter accounts. Will we see you tweeting any time soon?
Thornton: No. I don't follow that stuff. Sorry. Maybe I should, though.
ThePostGame.com: Some people say it's surprisingly addictive once you get started.
Thornton: I've got the baby now. That's my addiction.
ThePostGame.com: Should the NHL send its players all the way to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics?
Thornton: Tough to say. Obviously Vancouver was the best possible thing ever, and the final game did so much for hockey. If the NHL feels Sochi would be good for hockey, let's go. But if not, I don't think it's a wise decision to shut down the league for two weeks if you think it's a bad idea.
ThePostGame.com: The NBA and NHL season practically overlap. If the NBA has its players in the Summer Olympics, why shouldn't the NHL look into that?
Thornton: I played in the World Cup, and that was at the end of August and early September. And the World Cup is pretty much like the Olympics. You're getting all the best players from each country and going at it. I think that might work a little better than having the league shut down for two weeks.
ThePostGame.com: The Olympics have automatic icing. Should the NHL copy that?
Thornton: No, I like how it is now. I like seeing those races. I think it's a good thing for hockey to keep the races.
ThePostGame.com: The instigator penalty. Keep it or dump it?
Thornton: Get rid of it.
ThePostGame.com: If your life depended on someone else winning a faceoff, who would you want taking it? But you can't pick a teammate.
Thornton: Can't pick a teammate? Well, I'll pick Manny Malhotra. I played with Manny last year and he's one of the best there is in the game right now. Back in the old days when I was with Boston, I'd probably take Peter Zezel. Or Joel Otto. Those were two guys I grew up watching too.
ThePostGame.com: You took a paycut in your contract extension that runs through 2014. Is that the ultimate sign that you love it in San Jose?
Thornton: I believe in the team we've got here. Everybody believes in each other, the coaching staff, management and ownership. Everybody wants to stick around and play here. It's a super place to play. The fans are great, and we're going to have a chance to win every year. And that's all you can ask for as a player.
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