On Friday, August 13, 2021, the Florida Panthers signed a player that no one expected to be brought in. That was the 23-season-veteran, Joe Thornton, as he inked a one-year deal worth the league minimum, $750,000. At 42-years-old, this signing came as a head-scratcher for most Panthers fans, as the team was pushing more towards a youth movement. But every signing in the NHL happens for a reason.
Last season, he had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) through 44 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the playoffs that same season, he registered one goal through seven games against the Montreal Canadiens. He is currently the active scoring leader, with 1,529 career points.
Veteran Leadership and Playoff Experience
The Panthers are still considered one of the younger teams in the NHL, as their roster’s average age is around 27 years old. That makes for the 11th youngest roster, so bringing in someone like Thornton is a drastic outlier. However, the case made for him coming to South Florida might be in the form of his locker room presence, as well as his ability to mentor the younger guys on the roster. This guy has been in the league since 1997, has played in over 1,600 regular season games, made nearly 200 playoff appearances, three All-Star appearances, and almost reached the top of the hockey mountain as he played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
Additionally, he won both the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy in the 2005-06 season. With this resume alone, he’s shown that he had what it takes to be one of the best in NHL. There is probably no one better for a job like this than “Jumbo Joe, ” and with some players entering their first or second seasons, they’ll need to take some serious notes from a teammate who can bring their game to new heights.
This is Not Their First Rodeo With a Legend
As most Panthers fans know, this is not the first time that they’ve brought in a legendary player over the age of 40 to try and give lessons to the youth. This same idea worked back in 2015, when they traded with the New Jersey Devils to acquire forward Jaromir Jagr. That resulted in their best season in franchise history in the 2015-16 season, Jagr hitting NHL milestones, and the youth in Aleskander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau picking up important postseason experience and hockey lessons.
What Panthers general manager Bill Zito is ultimately hoping for is that same exact situation in which the youth learns valuable lessons, and it pushes them to be great players. Thornton may not have the same resume as Jagr, but what he brings to the table is not that much different.
Where Do You Put Him?
A problem that arises with bringing in “Jumbo” is finding a spot for him in the Panther lineup. Depending on where you place him, it could cost some of the younger guys, such as Mason Marchment or Anton Lundell, some valuable playing time they could otherwise use to their advantage. In addition, there’s a chance he could take Noel Acciari‘s fourth line center position, which could ruin the chemistry than line has developed.
With that being said, it’s clear they do not plan to play him for all 82 games this season, and was also signed for depth purposes. In any instance someone goes down with injury, Thornton could easily come in and fill the need. The line he’s on may not have the same speed, but it’s nice to have that veteran presence out there on the ice.
This Should Give the Team a Push
In a recent interview with Jameson Olive, Thornton expressed that he’s excited to be a part of the Panthers organization due to the foundation they’ve built last year.
“I see their team on paper. I watched their team last year. I love their team. That’s it. I love what they’re building, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Everything is ultimately about winning the Stanley Cup. The Panthers are right there in my opinion.”Joe Thornton on why he signed with the Florida Panthers
Even though he is hitting the late stages of his career, Thornton still has Stanley Cup ambitions and the drive to win. What he brings to the table could be a massive boost to the young guys on the roster and can teach those without postseason experience how to handle those treacherous waters. He is far from what he was during his time with the San Jose Sharks, but he will ultimately be a big help for the team to succeed now and in the future.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!