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Sharks sign captain Joe Thornton to $21 million, 3-year contract extension

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Joe Thornton won’t be testing the free-agent waters.

The veteran centre signed a US$21-million, three-year extension with the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, putting him under contract through the 2013-14 season.

Thornton could have become an unrestricted free agent for the first time this summer. Instead, the new Sharks captain will remain in California.

“Joe stepped up and made a tremendous commitment to this franchise, his teammates and the fans in San Jose,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “We are very pleased that we now have another key piece of this team’s core under contract for the next four seasons.”

Before the start of free agency this past summer, the Sharks signed top forwards Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to four-year contracts at reasonable prices. Defencemen Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray and forwards Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe have already been locked up to long-term deals.

“Joe is among the top players in the game, and along with several other core members of our team, we feel he is just entering the prime of his career,” Wilson said.

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The 31-year-old Thornton is making $7.2 million this season and likely could have gotten a richer deal had he tested the open market after July 1.

Thornton has been one of the top players in the league since joining the Sharks in a trade with Boston in November 2005. He won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in his first season with San Jose, when he led the league in scoring with 125 points.

His 479 points since joining the Sharks are the third most in the NHL during that span. Only Alex Ovechkin with 511 and Sidney Crosby with 481 have more.

Thornton has posted at least 20 goals and 50 assists for seven straight seasons—the longest streak for any player since Steve Yzerman and Doug Gilmour did it eight straight times from 1986-87 to 1993-94, respectively.

Thornton has helped San Jose post the top record in the Western Conference the past two seasons. The Sharks made it to the conference final last season before being swept by Chicago.

He also helped Canada win a gold medal at the Olympics last winter.