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Joe Thornton returns to HC Davos

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Jumbo Joe is taking his time off to mentor a young HCD team.

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 27: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center on December 27, 2019 in San Jose, California. Photo by Brandon Magnus/NHLI via Getty Images

Unrestricted free agent Joe Thornton is taking his time deciding what he’s going to do in the 2020-21 season, but as far as how he’s spending the late off-season, he’s pretty set. The 41-year-old forward returned to HC Davos in the Swiss National League. Thornton previously joined the club during the NHL lockouts in 2004 and 2012.

Thornton made a brief appearance on the team’s Twitter page, announcing his return and sporting a recently shaven face:

During his first stint with the club in 2004, Thornton met his now wife, Tabea, and he would often return to train with Davos in the summers. In July 2009, the St. Thomas, Ontario native became a naturalized American citizen. Per the New Journal of Zürich, a German-language Swiss paper, Joe Thornton now has a Swiss passport, meaning he won’t count against Davos’ import limit. That’s not the only advantage he brings: he’s not taking a salary with the team, either.

“It will be a lot of fun to play for HC Davos again in the championship,” Thornton said in a statement. “The boys and I have been training together all summer and I am very happy to be fighting serious battles for the HCD again.”

The 17-year relationship between himself and the club has been a mutually beneficial one. In particular, the Journal points out that Thornton returned to the NHL in 2005 with an NLA Championship, a Spengler Cup and a fire under him. That season he was traded to the Sharks where he won both the Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP) and the Art Ross (League’s best scorer).

The love goes both ways: (Pardon the Google Translation)

One way or another, Thornton’s involvement is a huge asset to the HCD. Sports director Raeto Raffainer said: “It’s a great honor that he has chosen us again.” The HCD is one of the youngest teams in the league. To run alongside Thornton once is the fulfillment of a dream for some youngsters. The gifted will undoubtedly benefit from the experience of the experienced.

Up and down the country, the spectators would also be happy about the interlude under normal circumstances — Thornton is the biggest attraction in the league since Auston Matthews at the ZSC Lions in winter 2015/16. It is perhaps the only flaw in Thornton’s return: that they fear not only in Davos that due to the rising number of corona infections, hardly any spectators will soon be allowed to enter the stadiums — and that people will not be able to enjoy Thornton’s magic live.

Since free agency began, speculation has begun that Thornton may not wish to stay in San Jose. And it’s true, Thornton said he was “disappointed” that a trade didn’t come through at the deadline when it was obvious that the Sharks would be sellers last season. His one-year contract made him a rental option that Wilson had on the table.

I just don’t read into that disappoint as a rift between Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and Thornton as others have. In fact, Wilson assured the media on Tuesday that he and Thornton spoke “a couple days ago.”

“Any conversations he and I have are always kept in confidence. The respect and admiration we have for him as a player, as a person, as a man, what he’s done for this organization, but those conversations stay between him and I. We communicate quite a bit, quite often. We want what’s best for Jumbo and for everybody involved, but as I said, those conversations stay between him and I.”

If you’re to believe the reports by James Mirtle at the Athletic — who waxes poetic about how devastated Jumbo was by the end of last season that you’d think last year was the year he shredded his knee for the second time — then the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the “beginning stages” of courting the long-time Shark.

But Leafs media loves to talk themselves into these things on the assumption that Toronto is any closer to winning the Stanley Cup than the Sharks are — as if the Leafs have won a playoff round since before the first time Jumbo went to Switzerland and the Sharks weren’t in the Conference Final in 2019. That’s not mentioning that the last time that the Sharks missed the playoffs, they made the Cup Final the following season.

It also doesn’t take into account just how much Thornton loves San Jose.

Last year, Thornton didn’t sign his one-year contract with the Sharks until September 6. Even though the league is planning on a January 1 start date, the uncertainty about how the coronavirus pandemic will continue to affect travel and gatherings in the United States and in Canada might eventually make all the planning for naught.

Jumbo’s just vibing and living his live in the moment and I think we should let him.