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How good is Joe Thornton? Ask Devin Setoguchi

In 2008-09, Devin Setoguchi scored nearly 40 goals. It’s hard to believe that just seasons later, he’s been demoted to the AHL during what should arguably be the prime of his career. But you could say it’s just the Joe Thornton effect.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Around the time Jonathan Cheechoo’s career started taking a step back, a new young gun arrived for the San Jose Sharks. It was part of what you can call the Joe Thornton effect, if you’d like. Now, just six seasons after a 31-goal year, Devin Setoguchi is without a place in the NHL.

On Wednesday, the Calgary Flames waived the 27-year-old Setoguchi. On Thursday, he cleared waivers and was officially demoted to the American League’s Adirondack Flames. It’s his first time back in the AHL since 2007-08 and when he’ll be back in the NHL, it’s hard to say.

Setoguchi, much like Cheechoo before him, benefitted greatly from playing alongside Thornton. In fact, it’s hard not to believe he’s ridden the reputation as a three time 20-plus-goal guy to almost every contract he’s gotten since. It’s hard to place blame on NHL general managers, too. With that kind of goal-scoring potential at a fraction of the cost, he was a risk worth taking. But Setoguchi never found his goal-scoring touch, and it’s not hard to see why.

Whether or not Joe Thornton makes the Hall of Fame is up for debate. Is he one of the greatest playmakers the NHL has seen in its current generation? Absolutely. Does he have some outstanding personal accolades? He certainly does. And while he’s never been able to win the Stanley Cup or even make the Final, he can lay claim to playing a starring role in Setoguchi’s career.

Looking at his career from the beginning, there were always high hopes for Setoguchi. Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, eighth overall, the Taber, Alta., native was supposed to succeed. The expectations for Setoguchi, who had scored 33 goals with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades in his draft year, were that he would continue to have that kind of punch at the major league level.

Alongside Thornton, he did. Over the course of his three years in San Jose, Setoguchi spent more time on the ice with Thornton than any other forward. In fact, of the 3,318 minutes the winger played as a member of the Sharks, over 1,750 were with Thornton as his center. During those minutes, Setoguchi was at his most effective.

In minutes spent with Thornton, Setoguchi was on the ice for 1.04 goals every 20 minutes of ice time and only 0.57 goals against. Those numbers, both exceptional totals, were good for 64.5 percent of the goals going San Jose’s way during their time together. That went along with a 56 percent Corsi For, meaning more often than not Setoguchi was playing in the opposition end.

The story was much different when the two were split up, however. Setoguchi played 1,562 minutes away from ‘Jumbo’, during which time those goals for and against numbers were vastly different. Setoguchi, sans Thornton, was on ice for only .70 goals for per 20 minutes and .81 goals against – a goal share of 46.6 percent. Far cry from the dominant 64.5 percent he saw with Thornton up the middle. But if there was some hope for Setoguchi, it was in his Corsi numbers, where he was still a positive possession player. He was sheltered, but he was still productive. But that production began to dwindle.

From 31 goals and 65 points in 2008-09, Setoguchi would slip to 20 goals and 36 points the following season, a contract year. San Jose wasn’t sold, re-signed him for one season, but Setoguchi didn’t regain his sophomore season form, potting 22 goals and 41 points in 2010-11, his final season with San Jose. With the dip in production, San Jose had seen enough and Setoguchi was sent to the Minnesota Wild at the 2011 draft in a package deal that brought defenseman Brent Burns the other way.

In Minnesota, he signed a 3-year, $9 million deal. With the Wild, he didn’t once reach the 20-goal plateau. His highest point total came in the first season, when he netted 19 goals and 36 points. The lockout-shortened season in 2012-13 gave a glimmer of hope, as Setoguchi was on a 22 goal pace had it been an 82-game campaign. It wouldn’t matter, however, as at the 2012 draft, the Wild dealt him to Winnipeg.

He went bust in Winnipeg, posting the lowest goal total of his career and failing to eclipse even his lockout production. In 12 games this season in Calgary, the only team to take a shot on Setoguchi, he didn’t score or register a single point.

But the points, or lack thereof, are a symptom of a much bigger issue: since he left Thornton’s side in San Jose, Setoguchi has been dominated while on the ice. In the three full seasons he’s played since departing the Bay Area, Setoguchi’s Corsi For is 48.6 percent, his goal share is only 45 percent, and he’s scored at half the rate he did when he was with Thornton. It doesn’t help that his zone starts were much less friendly – a player of Setoguchi’s ilk was best used in the offensive zone and he was now tasked with the highest rate of defensive starts of his career.

And in 204 games, less than three full seasons, that’s how Devin Setoguchi went from a near 40-goal scorer to playing in the AHL. High expectations paired with misuse and inflated stats from playing with one of the greatest playmaking centers the league has seen: that’s how Devin Setoguchi’s career will be remembered if this is the end of his road.



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