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No surprise: Thornton returns to Sharks on one-year, $5-million deal

Joe Thornton has never really been one to mince words and he most certainly didn’t bother when asked following the campaign, at which his one-year, $8-million deal with the San Jose Sharks was complete, about what the future held. “It’s no secret I’m a Shark,” Thornton said in May, according to the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow. “I bleed teal and I want to come back.”

And come back he will. Though he didn’t ink a new deal ahead of free agency and didn’t put pen to paper on July 1, the Sharks announced Monday that Thornton has been inked to a one-year deal. Terms of the deal weren’t announced by San Jose, but Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported the contract will pay Thornton $5 million. It’s also believed the deal carries a no-trade clause.

“Joe has become one of the faces of this franchise since his arrival in 2005 and we feel it’s only fitting that he will be wearing teal going forward,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson in a release. “He is a generational playmaker and his accomplishments place him amongst the elite players to ever play the game. He has helped lead this team to new levels and continues to be one of the top two-way centers in the league.”

Despite his age — Thornton celebrated his 39th birthday Monday — there were few better free agents left on the market. It could even be argued that well before Sunday’s signings were complete, Thornton was the best forward left on the market. Last season, prior to suffering a knee injury that cost him close to half the campaign and the entire post-season, Thornton had scored 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games for San Jose. In fact, at the time of his injury on Jan. 23, Thornton was second in scoring among the Sharks, trailing only defenseman Brent Burns.

Bringing back Thornton means San Jose is set to ice largely the same lineup as last season, particularly up front. How coach Peter DeBoer chooses to build his lines, though, may be different entirely. With deadline acquisition Evander Kane re-signed and in the fold, the Sharks’ top line could become Kane and Joonas Donskoi on the wings with Joe Pavelski down the middle. The second unit could then feature Logan Couture with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. That could leave Thornton as a top-tier third-line pivot. Of course, one of Pavelski or Couture could also be shifted to the wing with Thornton as a second-line center making for a rock-solid top-six in San Jose.

Thornton’s signing still leaves the Sharks with options this summer, too, whether it be through adding another free agent or exploring the trade market to strengthen their squad. San Jose left money available as part of their attempt to land John Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his decision to head elsewhere means there’s nearly $14 million that can be spent elsewhere.

So, while the Sharks still need to be take care of a contract for restricted free agent Chris Tierney, they have more than enough space to lock him up while eyeing additions elsewhere, maybe another scoring winger or a depth defender who can help San Jose take another run at bringing a Stanley Cup to the Bay Area.