Speaking at the NHL Awards media availability today, future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton made it clear that he is not yet ready to hang up his skates. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman relays word from Thornton that the veteran center is feeling good and is ready to return for the 2019-20 season. Thornton even added that he is thinking beyond next season so long as he can stay healthy and continue playing at a high level.
At 39, soon to be 40, many wondered if “Jumbo Joe” had played his final game in the NHL. Thornton battled injuries over the last few years and left many wondering if he could keep going. Yet, Thornton returned to full strength this past season and proved doubters wrong, playing in 73 games and recording 51 points. Even at an advanced age, Thornton continues to be one of the top play-makers in the league, as well as a two-way force. If he can indeed stay healthy and continue playing at this level, Thornton can play as long as he likes.
The question now is who will he play for? Thornton has been with the San Jose Shark since 2006, skating in over 1,000 games with the club, and seemed optimistic about a return. However, San Jose is limited for cap space this summer, following the extension of defenseman Erik Karlsson, which costs the team $11.5MM against the cap. The move left the Sharks with just over $16MM in cap space – following the trade of Justin Braun – but the team must re-sign restricted free agents Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Joakim Ryan among others. Even after that, is Thornton, easily worth $4-5MM, a priority over captain Joe Pavelski? Or adding another prime free agent forward? Or upgrading their goalie situation? Thornton may want to keep playing, but that doesn’t guarantee that he’ll keep playing in San Jose unless some sacrifices are made.