A retrospective on Chris Thorburn's year isn't necessarily easy, especially when considering performance together with expectations. Yes, this season review will shortly go through the 32-year-old's point production, mildly horrific underlying numbers and magnificent beard. But no one is waiting with bated breath for him to light the world on fire offensively, and in terms of what is expected, it was another season of Chris Thorburn doing what Chris Thorburn does.
The Sault Ste. Marie native enjoyed a healthy 2015-16, playing all 82 games while posting six goals, 12 points and 81 PIM along the way. In addition, Thorburn averaged 10:07 TOI, his highest total since 2011-12. The vast majority of this time was played at even strength, though he was good for 00:41 SH TOI/GP, 8th among regular forwards.
Interestingly enough, Thor's Points per 60 of 0.89 was the lowest of his full-time NHL career. Among Jets forwards who played at least 100 5v5 minutes, only Matt Halischuk produced at a lower clip.
If expanded to include all NHL forwards who played at least 500 minutes, Thor's P/60 ranks 313th out of 352 qualifying skaters, just below offensive luminary Derek Dorsett. Thorburn's production may be far from Paul Gaustad levels of ineptitude, but it's not unreasonable to hope for a little more bang given his playing time buck.
For instance, Adam Lowry's 1.05 P/60 ranked 276th among the same 352 forwards. It's at least somewhat fair to compare the two given how Lowry was Thorburn's most common linemate at 5v5, and a per 60 rate adjusts for the difference in average ice time between them.
Thor's fancy stats weren't exactly good, a happening with all the shock value of the sun's rising and setting. Whether looking at Shots For (shots on net) or Corsi For (all shot attempts, including those missed and blocked), he was in constant competition with Halischuk and Anthony Peluso for last among Winnipeg forwards. With a 46.26 SF% and 45.52 CF%, the Jets were buried when Chris Thorburn was on the ice.
It's hard to get any sort of worked up over this, because it's been the Chris Thorburn reality for years. Let's look at his seasons as a Winnipeg Jet, beginning with traditional shots:
(Minuses are a good thing in the Rel.SA60 category; they mean the opposition had fewer opportunities while Thor was on the ice, relative to his teammates.)
Over his five years in Winnipeg, Thorburn has never had a positive (ie. over 50.0%) season in terms of raw Shots For percentage, and only once was he positive relative to his teammates. Not to take away from this singular moment, but 2012-13 was a lockout-shortened season in which Thor played 42 games and his lowest average time on ice as a Jet. The smaller sample size is strong with this one.
Now let's look at everyone's favourite metric,
Just as before with raw SF%, Thor hasn't a single positive Corsi For percentage to his name. When expanded beyond shots to include Corsi's missed and blocked opportunities, his 2012-13 ceases to be positive relative to teammates. From a Corsi perspective, 2015-16 wasn't his best season, nor was it his worst. In fact, it ends up being right smack-dab in the middle.
But again, no one is expecting a positive result here. If you are, I want some of what you're reading. Aside from his locker room intangibles and status as an off-ice delight, Thor's role is to hit, fight and occasionally score when you least expect it. By this criteria, Thorburn did exactly what you supposed he would.
He led the team with seven fighting majors and was second to Dustin Byfuglien in terms of overall PIM total. In addition, his 146 hits were bested only by Adam Lowry's 187 (with Lowry playing in eight fewer games, no less). Thorburn was exactly the fourth line energy guy you've come to expect, which in one sentence summarizes all of the words and tables above.
Chris Thorburn and skaters of similar ilk are not dinosaurs. Gritty leader men of varying degrees still abound as depth across the NHL. Here are some examples from the Central Division alone:
Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Desjardins and Brandon Mashinter
Colorado Avalanche: Cody McLeod and Andreas Martinsen
Dallas Stars: Vernon Fiddler and Travis Moen
Minnesota Wild: Jarret Stoll and Ryan Carter
Nashville Predators: Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad
St. Louis Blues: Scottie Upshall and Steve Ott
Whether or not they constitute the best fourth line options for their respective clubs, having a player such as Thorburn does continue to be a norm (and for his faults, Thor is infinitely preferable to some of the names above). It should also be noted how among those listed, Thorburn had a lower ATOI than all but Mashinter and Moen.
Which leads us to Thorburn's place on the Winnipeg Jets. It's reasonable to assume that Thor will remain with Winnipeg, and this isn't necessarily a terrible outcome. As has been said many times before, having a Chris Thorburn to sit in the press box and/or play limited minutes on the fourth line is perhaps more desirable than seeing one such as Nic Petan do the same. Thor allows those young forwards who remain waiver-exempt to play significant minutes down with the Moose.
However, given the plethora of forward options at Winnipeg's disposal, two things should never happen again: third-line Chris Thorburn, and a lineup featuring both Thor and Peluso. This is one of the reasons why having the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg can be invaluable; even in the event of injury, a call-up option more appropriate for the third-line is hopefully just a stone's throw away.
What's your assessment of Thorburn's 2015-16 season? How long might Brendan Lemieux need to percolate before becoming Neo Thorburn? While there shouldn't be room for both Thor and Peluso, what about Thor and JC Lipon? Is anyone else dreaming of a Lowry - Copp - Armia "fourth line", with Thorburn as the 13th forward?
Share your thoughts, concerns and favourite Thor moments in the Comments section below, and as always, thanks for reading!
All stats are unadjusted 5v5 unless otherwise stated, and are as per Corsica Hockey unless otherwise linked.