The saying goes, if you love something set it free. If the Sharks value center Joe Thornton’s loyalty over his 15 years with the team, they’ll do just that by trading him to a contender.
Thornton’s Shot at a Stanley Cup
Granted, Thornton has a no-movement clause. It’s possible he won’t want to leave the organization for which he’s played the longest and with which he’s enjoyed the most success. If so, so be it. However, he’s earned the chance to get a shot at a Stanley Cup as a 22-year-veteran and more importantly as a 40-year-old in what could be his last season.
Needless to say, he won’t get that opportunity with the Sharks. While the Sharks have the depth up front and on defense to contend, their goaltending keeps letting them down. They rank fourth-last in terms of goals-against per game (3.32). That’s despite a top-notch defense corps on paper that in practice has given up a top-10-ranked 30.6 shots against.
Of course, Thornton and Thornton alone has the best idea of how much he’s got left in the tank. It’s stands to reason it’s not much, though. His current one-year deal is his third straight. They’ve gotten progressively smaller in magnitude to the point. Just two seasons ago, Thornton had a cap hit of $8 million. This 2019-20 season? Just $2 million.
It’s an unfortunate reflection of his dwindling production. The multi-time 100-point man, who won the 2006 Hart Memorial Trophy on the strength of a 125 campaign, isn’t even on pace to hit 50, with only 19 so far (two goals), getting just 14:52 of ice time per game. At his peak that number was above 19 minutes.
Thornton as a Trade Asset
Such is the reality of aging for a professional athlete in competitive sport. Time always wins out eventually. That doesn’t mean Thornton can’t leave the sport at the top, though. While his contract is indicative of his overall value at this stage of his career, it also must make him especially attractive to potential cap-space-strapped suitors.
Think along the lines of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who conveniently have an extra goaltender to give. Assuming Tristan Jarry is their guy moving forward, Matt Murray, as a 25-year-old, is far from a lost a cause. It would take more than Thornton, but you get the idea. Alternatively, the New York Islanders have Thomas Greiss who may theoretically be available as a pending unrestricted free agent.
In other words, this is general manager Doug Wilson’s time to shine. He could conceivably kill two birds with one stone. In one fell swoop, he could address his goaltending dilemma by replacing starter Martin Jones and find Thornton a new home. That’s just the ideal scenario, though. Ultimately, this isn’t about building for the future by acquiring a goalie or even draft picks in exchange for a rental in Thornton. It’s about honoring the past.
Think along the lines of how the Montreal Canadiens traded Doug Gilmour to the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2003. Just along those lines though, not exactly parallel to them, because ideally it would end in a Stanley Cup and maybe not with Thornton in the jersey of a team that stupidly traded him away in his prime for an apparent lack of playoff production.
For the record, with the Sharks, Thornton has scored a relatively impressive 115 points in 144 playoff games. Overall, he has 133 in 179 contests. With the Sharks 11 points out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot, he most likely won’t add to that total this season, unless it’s with another team.
It may be shocking to so much as consider Thornton in another uniform, especially seeing as it makes all kind of sense for him to be the first to have his Sharks jersey retired. The Sharks need to trade him first for him to eventually come back. That’s how the saying goes, anyway. Actions speak louder than words, though. It’s time for the Sharks to do the right thing.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.