With the Panthers being eliminated earlier this week, the speculation about Joe Thornton’s playing future has already started. Speaking with reporters today including NHL.com’s Alain Poupart, the veteran indicated that it’s too early to know if he’ll return for a 25th NHL season:
I haven’t put any thought into it at all right now. I think it’s still so quick. I wasn’t expecting that. It took me by surprise, so I’m sure I’ll talk with the family and see what our plan is next. I haven’t decided if I’m going to play or not, but we’ll talk and see how everybody’s feeling about it. We’ll see.
The 43-year-old signed with Florida early in free agency last summer but had a very limited role throughout the season when he was healthy enough to play. He missed 20 games due to injuries and was a scratch for another 28, resulting in a career-low 34 appearances where he managed just five goals and five assists while averaging just 11:09 per game, also a career-low. Thornton’s usage was even more limited in the playoffs as he played just once – the last game of the Tampa Bay series.
While Thornton is far from the All-Star player he was in his prime, he has a reputation for being a strong positive presence in the dressing room which likely played a role in Florida signing him last summer. It’s also worth noting that he’s within striking distance of the all-time games played record set by long-time teammate Patrick Marleau; Thornton is 65 appearances away from equaling that mark. A fully healthy season in 2022-23 could give him a realistic shot at setting the new standard.
At this point of his career, Thornton is going to be limited to a contract that’s basically at or around the minimum salary of $750K and he has signed minimum-salary deals the last two years. Accordingly, there’s no real rush for him to make a decision; the types of offers he might have a shot at early in free agency will still be there at any other point of the offseason. While many may want to know what’s next for Thornton, that decision may not be coming for a while.