The entire San Jose Sharks organization went on something of a soul searching expedition after they went up three games to none on the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2013-14 NHL playoffs, only to then lose to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Kings, four games to three. That was only the fourth time in NHL playoff history that a team leading a series by such a wide margin had gone on to lose.
It wasn't surprising then that a period of self-reflection began for the franchise wherein GM Doug Wilson talked endlessly about changing the culture, while staying the course and really, not doing much of anything other than stripping Joe Thornton of his captaincy.
But here we are, many months later and the Sharks, with a new head coach in Pete DeBoer, are playoff-bound yet again. And while most of the San Jose fanbase would probably prefer to avoid the killer Kings - they bested the Sharks again in 2014-15 - in an early-round playoff series, at least one man, "Jumbo" Joe, would relish the opportunity.
"Oh I'd love it," Thornton said. "We've had great series with them, one to Game 6 and two Game 7s. It's fantastic to have three California teams back in. Would be a great challenge...we're a new team and it's a new year."
Thornton is right, but it's worth noting that despite the epic collapse in 2013-14, the Sharks actually provided the Kings, who again, went on to win the Cup, with their tightest, most hard-fought series. Wilson was right not to blow things up - though it seems he held onto head coach Todd McLellan for about six months too long - and he's now reaping the benefits of that steady handedness, as well as the bevvy of shrewd moves he made this past offseason.
"A lot of people didn't think we'd be in the playoffs. But I loved what (GM Doug Wilson) did," Thornton said. "Martin Jones, Paul Martin, Joel Ward, I knew it for sure. I knew the type of guys we had on this team, and I never wavered in believing we were good hockey team."
With 94 points, the Sharks are in just third place in the Pacific, but they've got a comfortable hold on an NHL playoff spot thanks to the moribund nature of the rest of the division, and there's really not much in the way of points or overall talent separating them from the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.
As things stand right now, the Sharks and Thornton would indeed square off with the big, bad Kings in the first round. San Jose actually leads the 2015-16 season series 3-1-1, but the NHL playoffs are another animal entirely.
Interestingly, Thornton, now 36 and in the penultimate year of his contract, said that he hasn't given much, if any, thought to his life post-playing days. In fact, Thornton wouldn't rule out playing well into his 40's, the way that Jaromir Jagr has.
"I love the game, I love the guys," Thornton said. "The fellowship, competing. I love everything hockey has to offer, if my body and mind allows me to play until I'm 44? You can't predict that."