It’s the end of an era in San Jose, as Joe Thornton has signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team announced today. The contract is one year at $700,000. Thornton is currently playing with HC Davos in Switzerland while the NHL is on an off-season break and awaiting a tentative January 1, 2021 start date.
Speculation had cropped up the the 41-year-old center was ultimately deciding between the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency over the last week. Thornton has been with the Sharks since he was traded from the Boston Bruins in 2005. Last season, Thornton was on a one year deal worth $2 million that he signed on September 9, 2019.
It’s difficult to not continue to draw comparisons to the decisions made between Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton — drafted back-to-back at first and second overall in 1997, the pair played together in San Jose from 2005 until 2017, when Marleau also departed for Toronto in free agency.
Marleau returned to San Jose last year after two first round exits at the hands of the Boston Bruins, making the Leafs give up their 2020 first-round draft pick so that the Carolina Hurricanes could buy out his contract. The two were reunited for 58 games before Marleau was traded again to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. Thornton, who has had a full no movement clause in each of his contracts with the Sharks since 2011, was not.
To be clear: both players, who have yet to win a Stanley Cup over their illustrious careers, wanted to be moved to a contender when it became clear that last season wasn’t going to come together for the Sharks. Wilson was only able to make it happen for one of them.
Maybe Thornton hasn’t been impressed with Doug Wilson’s small tweaks so far during free agency. Maybe everyone regrets that the team didn’t win with the core they had in 2016. Maybe next year will be weird anyway, so why not try something new?
I wasn’t surprised when Marleau left in 2017. He’d never played anywhere else and Toronto has meme-ified the extent to which they’re every Ontario player’s childhood dream team. But Thorton has played elsewhere, and he saw the Toronto media eat Marleau alive at the end — I’ll admit, this one is harder to understand.
The 2019-20 Maple Leafs did not qualify for playoffs, losing a play-in round to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team has not won an opening round since 2004 nor a Stanley Cup since 1967.