The Joe Thornton Trade: 10 Years Later

The date is November 30, 2005.

The Boston Bruins are sitting in the basement of the old Northeast Division after losing nine of their last 10 games (1-8-1). The San Jose Sharks are rooted to the foot of the Pacific Division after losing 10 straight games (0-7-3). It’s pretty clear that both teams need to shake things up.

What soon followed was one of the most significant trades in the modern history of both franchises.

“The Trade”

Bruins captain Joe Thornton was the face of the franchise. The number-one overall pick in 1997 had a slow start to life in the NHL as a rookie in the 1997-98 season as an 18-year-old. He eventually progressed in his career on Causeway Street and morphed into an offensive force; the climax of which came in 2002-03 when he recorded 36 goals, 101 points and 109 penalty minutes.

After the lockout, general manager Mike O’Connell signed his captain to a three-year, $20 million contract in August 2005, seemingly keeping the Boston captain in Beantown for the foreseeable future. Even though the Bruins were not performing well on the ice, Thornton had raced out the gates with 33 points in the club’s first 23 games.

Looking to shake things up in an attempt to revive Boston’s season, O’Connell traded away his captain and face of the franchise to the offensively inept Sharks in exchange for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm. At the time, this trade was lopsided as the Bruins got three “average” players for a potential superstar, or “ponies for a horse” as some would say.

Thornton revived San Jose’s offense scoring 92 points in just 58 games with his new club. He won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies that season while the Sharks made a run to the Western Conference Finals. It was a very bitter pill for Bruins fans to swallow as their beloved hockey club finished with the fifth-worst record that year.

The Return

At first, it appeared as if the Bruins were robbed blind by their Western Conference counterparts.

Stuart and Primeau combined to play 204 games in Boston from 2005-2007 before being shipped off to Calgary in February of ’07. New general manager Peter Chiarelli managed to acquire Chuck Kobasew and 28-year-old Andrew Ference from the Flames.

As for Sturm, he went on to have a respectable career with the Black and Gold. In the four-and-a-half years he spent in Boston, the German winger posted four 20-goal seasons and racked up 193 points in 302 games.

However, Sturm’s time in Boston will always be defined by a moment of magic on New Years Day in 2010. His overtime goal in the Winter Classic propelled the Bruins to a 2-1 victory on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park.

It was a moment frozen in time that no fan who supports the “eight-spoked B” will soon forget.

Chiarelli’s Magic

In 2009, Chiarelli dealt off Kobasew to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom and their second-round pick in 2011, which turned out to be now-top prospect Alexander Khoklachev.

Dennis Seidenberg - Bruins
The Seidenberg trade in 2011 remains one of the Bruins’ best deals in recent history. (Icon SMI)

At the time, the move didn’t warrant much press. However, what he did with Weller is nothing short of miraculous.

Boston’s GM put together a last-minute deal during the 2011 trade deadline to send the depth forward Byron Bitz and a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Dennis Seidenberg and the rights to Matt Bartkowski.

Weller and Fallstrom never played an NHL game in their careers. Bitz played just 17 games after being traded by the Bruins. In contrast Ference, Seidenberg and Bartkowski all got to taste from the Holy Grail that is the Stanley Cup in 2011.

The same three players were also around during Boston’s second run at the Cup in 2013, even though they fell victim to the powerful Chicago Blackhawks.

Seidenberg is the one remaining piece of those now-memorable deals and is still a big part of the Bruins defense corps.

So, Who Won?

After dissecting the Joe Thornton trade tree, now we arrive at the million-dollar question:

Ten years on, who won the deal?

Calculating all the parts and subsequent dealings that went on, it is now a deal that is  Thornton for Seidenberg and Khoklachev. On paper, this is one the Sharks win easily.

Would Chara have been with the Bruins if Thornton remained on the roster? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Would Chara have been with the Bruins if Thornton remained on the roster? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, think of the intangibles. San Jose made the playoffs nine straight years with Thornton in their lineup. Despite all of his best efforts, they only made it to the Western Conference Finals twice, losing to the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 and Vancouver Canucks in 2011.

In addition, Thornton was stripped of his captaincy last year after wearing the “C” for five seasons. It was a clear sign that then-head coach Todd McClellan did not believe he was fit to be a leader, which was the same criticism that Bruins fans had of him before his exit.

As for Boston, ask yourself the following: Would Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard have signed with the Bruins if Thornton hadn’t been dealt? Could they have won a Cup with Thornton on the roster, possibly as a captain?

The answer is probably not. Seidenberg is still a huge piece of the D-corps and may not be here were it for the by-products of the trade. Ference was a direct result of the return for Thornton and he played a huge role in bringing the Cup home with his leadership and tenacity.

Thornton helped San Jose to be a perennial playoff team but could never get them over the hump. After all, John Tortorella may be right when he said that Thornton could be “one of the better players in the League never to win anything.”

It took the Bruins a few seasons yet eventually, they won a Cup and were two games away from hoisting a second with by-products of this trade being the key cogs in Boston’s championship drive.

Ask yourself: which would you rather have?