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Rob Mahon The Hockey Writers

Published on Sunday, May 15, 2016

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Should They Stay or Go: Chris Thorburn

Chris Thorburn has built up a lot of goodwill in the Winnipeg Jets’ dressing room over his five years here. That goodwill is going to come in handy when the battles for roster spots begin in September.

Yes, I’m aware it’s a little early yet for us to be thinking about training camp battles and where Thorburn fits in on the finished roster, but this is what happens when the team you’re covering misses the playoffs. My only recourse is shameless speculation. Hey Jets, make the playoffs next season and give me something tangible to write about in mid-May.

That said, the Jets flurry of call-ups down the stretch, coupled with the signing of Kyle Connor and the addition 0f (most likely) Patrik Laine, does mean the competition for roster spots is going to be a little bit tight, and there are certainly those who feel Thorburn will be a casualty of that tight competition. Others feel he already should’ve been.

Still, Thorburn is a divisive figure among Jets fans, and he still has his supporters. He’s been a true soldier for the franchise, and one of the NHL’s genuine gentlemen off the ice, as well as filling a crash-and-bang role that isn’t easy on the body or the mind. Yet he still managed to play all 82 games last season.

So where does Thorburn fit into the future of the Jets? Does he fit in at all? There’s no question there are changes coming to the bottom six for the Jets, and it’s never too early to speculate (I will not be swayed on this) so here for your offseason enjoyment is the first of a series in which we ask the question of bottom six forward candidates: do they stay, or do they go?

All in Favour?

The first thing you need to understand about Thorburn is that he fills a role, and his teammates love him for it. He’s one of the most popular guys in the room because he brings his full effort every night, and plays a role everyone on the team respects. He creates space for the scorers and is willing to bang bodies on the forecheck. He’s the kind of guy everybody in the dressing room loves, and he’s reputed to be a vocal leader, so his departure would really mess with the chemistry of the room, something most coaches and GMs fear to do.

While Thorburn’s offensive numbers are far from inspiring, you don’t pay Chris Thorburn to light the scoresheet on fire. Even so, every now and then he teases you. He was recently awarded the Jets fan favourite play of the year for a beautiful shorthanded goal against Arizona.

Everything about that play, from the power to the patience, is gorgeous. The best part is, that’s not even the nicest goal Thorburn has ever scored with the Jets. It’s scary what the big man can do when he puts his mind to it.

Like I said, every now and then the man teases you with a move that would leave Blake Wheeler applauding, not to mention all the fans. Yet even if Thorburn isn’t relied upon for offense, his toughness is important. If you’re going to have a team as young as the Winnipeg Jets seem bent on being next year, you need somebody looking over those young guys’ shoulders, especially in the tough, nasty Central Division. Thorburn has proven time and again he’s willing to stick up for his teammates, and he’s able to play a regular shift while doing so, which many pugilists can’t.

Marry all of that to Thorburn’s presence in the community and you’ve got a player who looks to be staying in Winnipeg.

All Opposed?

Unfortunately, all players have shelf-lives, and many people feel the 32-year-old Thorburn is reaching his. His underlying numbers are eye-popping in a bad way and in an increasingly possession-dominated NHL this is a major mark against him.

You may not be paying the man to score, but it’s still not unreasonable to expect more than 6 goals from someone who plays 82 games, even if they are sweet shorthanded goals. Offense may not be Thorburn’s reason for being, but you expect better of him than that.

As for the argument that he defends the rookies, he may very well do so, but does he have the same intimidating presence as Anthony Peluso? If you’re going to keep a player around to watch out for the young guys (which I personally feel the Jets should, but I’m old school that way) then it should be Peluso, who is a far more effective deterrent to foolishness.

But the biggest mark against Thorburn really isn’t his own fault. It’s simply this: the Jets are getting younger, and the team has shown a desire to start turning those promising prospects they’ve cultivated over the years into full-time NHL players. Players like Connor and Laine are all but assured top-six roster spots, but you also have to think of players like Joel Armia, Marko Dano, and even Scott Kosmachuk and Brenden Lemieux. Could they usurp Thorburn’s spot? They’ll get their chance to, given the organization’s newfound youthful philosophy.

The Verdict:

All indications from within the team are they value what Thorburn brings on a daily basis. While some fans, particularly those inclined to advanced statistics, want to see him shown the door, the Jets want to keep one of their few veteran players on board even through the youth movement.

Thorburn does bring some valuable things on the ice. His willingness to scrap is still a checkmark in my book, his willingness to forecheck is a checkmark in everyone’s book, and occasionally he does something truly brilliant.

Off the ice, he’s valued in the room, great with the fans (I met him once about four years ago and haven’t forgotten it; he was the epitome of a class act, and don’t think for a second the team doesn’t notice that) and can be a steadying presence for the young guns that are going to start pouring in.

Yet still there are those who feel his role should diminish, and perhaps they have a point. Very rarely are fourth-line grinders, and this is what Thorburn unmistakably is, as effective into their mid-thirties. Thorburn may find himself in the press box a few more times this season than he did last.

What he will not find, I think, is that he’s out of a job. Like it or not, the Jets love this guy and there’s no ignoring their belief in his intangible value.

Chris Thorburn stays.


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