With the elimination of the Florida Panthers, it seems highly likely we’ve seen Joe Thornton for the final time in the NHL.
The 42-year-old future Hall of Famer drew into game four of Florida’s series loss, a sweep, at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was his only appearance in the postseason playing 6:18. Tampa Bay won the game 2-0, and the series 4-0.
In 34 regular-season games this year with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, Thornton totaled 5 goals and 10 points. It was his lowest output since his rookie NHL season more than two decades ago in 1997-1998 when he recorded only seven points. This year, Thornton found himself a regular healthy scratch, including throughout round one of the playoffs, and the first three games of round two.
His legacy, however, should this in fact be Thornton’s last hurrah in the NHL, will not be defined by his final campaign. Rather “Jumbo Joe” will be remembered for his storied 1,714 game career, which featured numerous accolades. It began in 1997 when Thornton was selected first overall by the Boston Bruins after being named the CHL’s top prospect while playing with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.
Thornton captained both the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks, winning the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy in 2005-2006, scoring a career-high 125 points. It was the same season Thornton was traded from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks. In total, Thornton has 430 goals and 1,539 career points. His totals were impacted by two seasons in his prime being shortened by NHL lockouts. During each lockout, he played in Switzerland with HC Davos.
The 2004-2005 lockout season was notable for Thornton as he helped HC Davos win both the Spengler Cup, and a top Swiss league title. He was named the NL’s MVP, and was the World Championship MVP leading Canada to a silver medal. He also won gold in the original iteration of the World Cup of Hockey.
Internationally, alongside the World Championships and World Cup, Thornton also represented Canada at the Olympics and World Juniors, winning Olympic gold in 2009-2010 and World Junior gold in 1996-1997.
His 24-season career was marked by consistency and excellence. In 2002-2003, Thornton was named an NHL Second Team All-Star. He’d be named a First Team All-Star in 2005-2006, and earn two more second-team all-star honors, his final coming in 2015-2016, his 18th season in the league.
Following the 2019-2020 season, Thornton made the difficult decision to leave his longtime team, the San Jose Sharks in what he called the “hardest hockey decision” of his life in search of the one achievement that remained elusive to the 6-foot-4 center - a Stanley Cup.
After not winning a title with Toronto, Thornton received an offer from the Florida Panthers to continue his quest for another year. When he signed a league-minimum $750,000 contract with Florida prior to this season, Thornton made it clear that the Stanley Cup was the driving factor in his decision to join the Panthers and continue playing.
“Everything is about ultimately winning the Stanley Cup and the Panthers are right there in my opinion,” he said at the time. It now looks as though Thornton will retire without capturing an NHL title. Thornton played in one Stanley Cup final in 2015-2016, eventually losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
If Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was in fact Joe Thornton’s last in the National Hockey League, he will go down as one of the all-time greats to play the game.