The naked photo of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns taking a faceoff, an excerpt from the ESPN Body Issue, is one of those images that we’re going to look at in 25 years like Bobby Clarke’s missing teeth smile or Terry Sawchuk’s scarred face. It’s iconic, for the moment.
It perfectly captures the modern NHL player – less than zero percent body fat on a large frame, those tats – while also perfectly capturing the unkempt aesthetic of the San Jose Sharks’ stars, all smiles and scraggily beards.
To that end, it’s hard to imagine Burns and Thornton on other teams, and harder to imagine Joe Thornton playing somewhere that’s non the San Jose Sharks. This is a player who wielded his no-trade clause like a giant rubber stamp with VOID written on it when GM Doug Wilson was looking to reconfigure the team. This is a player who wanted nothing more than the life he has in the Bay Area, and to play for that franchise, and to retire a Shark.
But now he’s turning 38 years old in July, he’s without a contract and both he and the Sharks have to make a decision about his long-term future in the NHL.
Thornton wants a three-year deal. We know this because his camp has said it time and time and time again. That’s great, in theory, and there’s no question that Jumbo has much left in the tank. It’s also true that a plus-35 contract that could carry a cap hit north of $6 million is a very, very scary thing when that player will be 41 in the final season of it.
“I don’t know if he’s ready to move, but I think there’s a lot of teams that are going to reach out to him to gauge his interest. Joe Thornton may not be the captain in San Jose anymore, but he’s a huge part of that community. He likes it there. He likes his teammates. He’s still a dominating presence in the room. I mean, there are guys who know him who say they can’t see him leaving.
“But he wants some term. And it’s always dangerous with a guy his age to give him term. The belief is that San Jose has some extensions done on July 1 – Martin Jones, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who are unrestricted in a year from now, but I think they’re going to get those done. So what’s left. What’s left for Thornton. I think there’s a lot of teams – Nashville, maybe Toronto, Montreal, Rangers – I even wouldn’t be surprised if a team like Columbus, who are all-in in the next two years, would call and say, ‘What would it take.’”
If Thornton and the Sharks decide to move on, Montreal and the Rangers are both really intriguing.
The Canadiens have an obvious need for a true centerman – if only so they can temporarily knock off this ‘let’s just make Jonathan Drouin one!’ nonsense – and Thornton adds another veteran leadership voice to that room. He also has a relationship with Shea Weber and Carey Price. It’s not outlandish.
The Rangers have $20 million in cap space and could easily just slide Thornton into Derek Stepan’s former salary slot – with the knowledge that he put up 50 points at 38 and Stepan put up 55 at 26 last season. He’s friends with Rick Nash as well, so there’s a connection there.
So there’s interest, which means there’s at least a little leverage on the part of Camp Thornton when it comes to the Sharks if they want him back. Do they want him back?
“These guys have been cornerstones of this franchise,” GM Doug Wilson said of Thornton and fellow UFA Patrick Marleau, to the Mercury News. “We’ve got some high-profile players and quality people. But how we feel about Joe and Patty and what they’ve done for this franchise, the standards they have set, just the quality of people and you sometimes have to make tough decisions. But make no mistake, our respect and appreciation for them will never end.”
But will that appreciation manifest itself in one last contract between Thornton and the Sharks?
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