It was only a matter of time before Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks put pen to paper on a new deal for the veteran pivot, but the two sides made it official Friday: the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer has signed a one-year, $2-million pact that will see him skate in his 22nd big-league campaign this season.
Thornton’s signing with the Sharks was among the worst kept off-season secrets, a free agency fait accompli. Following the culmination of the 2018-19 season, Thornton had said in no uncertain terms that he felt he was capable of returning and that he had no intention of signing anywhere other than San Jose. But while the signing is in no way shocking, and, truthfully, maybe the least-surprising late-summer signing we’ll see, don’t go mistaking it with some token re-signing.
Last season, Thornton was fantastic for the Sharks and pieced together what was legitimately one of the best offensive showings of his past few seasons. On a per-game basis, his output was actually down slightly from the season prior, a campaign that was cut nearly in half due to injury, but Thornton’s overall totals – 16 goals and 51 points in 73 games – were among the highest of his past five seasons. In fact, the only of his past five campaigns in which he bested those totals across the board was the 2015-16 season, during which he registered 19 goals and 82 points in 82 games.
Not only did Thornton produce, though, he acted as a depth weapon for San Jose and assumed a new role in the organization. A career-long top-six scorer, he slid into third-line duty last season for the Sharks, skating behind Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. He played his part to perfection, too, posting stellar base totals, as noted above, and underlying numbers that were equally impressive. To wit, at 5-on-5, he finished with a 57 percent Corsi percentage, 56.4 shots percentage and 55.2 goals for percentage. His line excelled in driving possession, and that same possession-heavy, play-driving, third-line role is what Thornton will be asked to assume once again.
As much as the contract represents both a solid bottom-six addition for the Sharks, it also a compromise between the two sides, as well.
On a one-year, $5-million pact last season, which represented a $3-million pay cut for Thornton from the campaign prior, he has again accepted a $3-million pay cut to offer San Jose some added financial flexibility. Already somewhat cap-strapped with less than $5 million in cap space as the season draws closer, Thornton’s deal – which, hilariously, is double the value of the one-year, $1-million deal signed by breakout restricted free agent Kevin Labanc – allows the Sharks to have another $2.6 million with which to play throughout the season. That flexibility will be crucial if San Jose needs to add at any point, be it due to a glaring hole in the lineup or an ill-timed injury to a key cog. Even if that's not the case, it can open up some important cap space come the trade deadline.
Most importantly, though, this deal is an opportunity for Thornton to have another shot at the ever-elusive Stanley Cup. A four-time end-of-season all-star and Hart and Art Ross Trophy recipient, Thornton’s Hall of Fame resume is bordering on unassailable, but winning the Cup would make him a mortal lock, if he’s not already.
Thornton and the Sharks came close to making that a reality last season, as they have in the past, but a magical run to the Western Conference final that included one of the most improbable comebacks in the sport’s history and consecutive Game 7 victories over the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche was stopped short by the St. Louis Blues. That was Thornton’s fourth trip to the conference final, and his one trip beyond that in 2015-16 saw the Sharks�� Stanley Cup dream snuffed out by the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, with San Jose returning most of the same lineup, albeit with the incredibly notable departure of captain Pavelski, the expectation is the Sharks will challenge for top spot in the Pacific Division and have another legitimate shot at capturing the franchise’s first championship.
The Cup won’t be the only thing Thornton is in pursuit of this season, mind you. A 59-point season would see Thornton become the Sharks’ all-time leading scorer, he will become one of only a dozen players in league history to play 1,600 games, he will likely become only the seventh player in NHL history to register 1,100 career assists and he sits 22 points shy of becoming the NHL’s 14th 1,500-point player.
But make no mistake, while the milestones and marks will be nice feathers in his cap, this go-round – which will quite possibly be Thornton’s last – is about the Stanley Cup.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.