SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Joe Thornton’s pursuit of an elusive Stanley Cup is bringing him to the Florida Panthers at age 42.
He signed a one-year deal Friday, making Florida his fourth franchise in a now 24-year NHL career. He has more points than any other active NHL player and is 14th all-time on that list with 1,529.
The 13 players ahead of him in points are in the Hall of Fame.
“I see their team on paper, I watched their team last year, I love their team and that’s it,” Thornton said. “I love what they’re building and I’m excited to be part of it. But everything is about ultimately winning the Stanley Cup and the Panthers are right there in my opinion.”
Thornton said he watched Florida’s playoff series with Tampa Bay last spring and was impressed by what he saw from the Panthers. The Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup, their second consecutive title. The Panthers have spent a summer making moves to get closer to that level, and Thornton was contacted by the Panthers weeks ago in an effort to make him part of the mix.
“With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “His drive to succeed is unmistakable and we are thrilled that he chose to sign with our club and that he believes in what we are building here in South Florida.”
Conversations with the Panthers’ braintrust — including Zito, head coach Joel Quenneville and his former Team Canada teammate Roberto Luongo — helped convince Thornton this was the right move, he said.
“The energy these guys bring every day, they want to work every day, they want to get better every day,” Thornton said. “I’m just really looking forward to joining them on the journey.”
Thornton has done about all there is in hockey, except win a Stanley Cup. He went to the final once, with San Jose in 2016 when the Sharks lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He’s won an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2010, the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in 2005-06 and the scoring title that same season.
He was the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft and started his career playing parts of eight seasons with Boston. He then went on to a 15-year run with the Sharks and spent last season with Toronto — scoring five goals in 44 games.
Thornton has been playing on essentially a year-to-year basis for the last few seasons, taking time each summer to decide if it was right to return. He said in June, after Toronto’s season ended, that he hadn’t made up his mind and wanted to focus on being a father before settling on any plans.
“We’ll see,” Thornton said at the time.
And then the Panthers called, with the offer that helped Thornton — the second-oldest skater in the NHL last season behind Zdeno Chara — decide that it wasn’t time to retire quite yet. He’s been going through two-a-day workouts for much of the summer and is convinced he can still contribute at the NHL level.
“The body feels good, the mind feels good and I knew pretty much after the season, I started training right away and I felt good,” Thornton said. “Here we go again.”