It’s been eight months since this site really committed some time to the notion of Joe Thornton being a Leaf. We were pretty sure it was going to happen at the trade deadline, and when it didn’t I don’t think any of us assumed it would be gone forever.
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) October 13, 2020
Fact of the matter is, now might be the best time to revisit it. It’s painfully clear the Sharks aren’t going to be good next year. It’s painfully clear that Joe Thornton can’t exactly ask for much, and would have to fall into the Spezza to Simmonds range of salary, and it’s painfully clear that both sides have been interested in making this happen. So now it’s time to explore if this is a Good Idea or a Bad Idea.
Well, unless there is something seriously wrong with you, there’s a good chance that you are somewhat of a fan of Joe Thornton. Or a fan of what Joe Thornton was. He’s been a fun character in what is normally a bland cast of characters, and he’ll provide leadership, heart, amusing comments, and all that good stuff.
He was also still managing to put together 15 minutes of ice time a night last season, and while the offensive side of his game is evaporating, he’s still got some defensive play to fall back on, and could help the penalty kill. If you want offense, well he’s only one year removed from a 50 point season, and I’m sure 40 year olds have bounce back years, right? He’ll have a higher caliber of linemate than he did on a terrible San Jose team, and as far as I know all we’re asking him to do is replace Freddie Gauthier. He should have no problem doing that.
If Thornton was going to take the league minimum to play for the Leafs it probably would have happened by now, so there are some dollars and sense to figure out. How much is too much for Thornton? We can hope that Marleau taking $700k in San Jose might make him more accessible, but the opposite could be true and maybe he’d rather go play with his buddy until the trade deadline if the Leafs can’t muster a few extra dollars.
There’s also the possibility that Thornton is getting looked at as a potential 3rd line center, in which case the Leafs need to consider what downgrading from Kerfoot in that spot would entail, assuming he moves on instead of just moving to the wing. Thornton doesn’t have the speed to keep up with a lot of the Leafs top nine, and while a slow old guy line of Simmonds/Thornton/Spezza seems like a fun 4th line, it is decidedly less fun as a third line.
Searching “Thornton” in our site search tool yielded results showing that every time Thornton is a free agent or approaching free agency we begin speculating on Thornton joining the Leafs. It’s been three years of us doing this and three years of it not happening. Now that Thornton is into the signing one year deals portion of his career, this will haunt us through every trade deadline and free agency period. It’s probably better we just get the experiment over now when he’s 41, rather than signing him as 13F in 2024. If there’s hockey left in Joe Thornton it’s going to be gone pretty soon, and the Leafs might as well explore what’s there if the price is right.
Thornton is currently working out with a Swiss League team in Davos to keep himself in shape. He hasn’t played a NHL game since March, so that’s a less than ideal, but he’s trying to close that gap. Evolving Hockey puts Thornton’s projected contract at 1 year, $2.1M, but of course that hasn’t considered the unprecedented pinch on players this offseason, and with the dollars evaporating from the market, Thornton isn’t going to see $2.1M, nor should he from the Leafs. If you invert the 2 and 1, you’ve got something very manageable for the Leafs, and realistically something that Thornton should accept. Anything beyond that, the Leafs are probably best to pass on this idea until it becomes all consuming again at the trade deadline.