It would have been unusual enough to have the NHL playoffs with no Joe Thornton this season, given he has appeared in the postseason 17 times over his career. But a regular season without him? That would be the end of an era. Some had wondered whether “Jumbo Joe” had played his final NHL game now that there is a chance the 2019-20 regular season could be canceled and the San Jose Sharks certainly won’t qualify for the playoffs, expanded or not. You don’t have to worry, according to the man himself, who told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic that he still has “years to go” in his NHL career.
Thornton, who will turn 41 in July, has now played in 1,636 regular season games during a 22-year career, with another 179 postseason contests added on. That’s already good for ninth all-time, trailing only longtime teammate Patrick Marleau among active players. Another full season would get him close to the top-five, depending on what Marleau does, not to mention climbing up the assist and point leaderboards, where he ranks seventh and 14th all-time respectively.
Sure, he’s not the same player that won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2006, or even the powerplay anchor that recorded 82 points in the 2015-16 season. But Thornton is still a strong possession player and continues to make you snap your head and say “wow” when he threads a pass through several defenders.
The question immediately becomes where would Thornton want to play next season. He obviously has incredible ties to the Sharks organization, but went public with his disappointment when he wasn’t moved to a contender at the trade deadline. If he doesn’t believe San Jose can get back to contender status by next year, perhaps he would want to continue his career elsewhere. The London, Ontario native has been linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past, and has a history with the Boston Bruins that would make any return a marketing executive’s dream.
Thornton has also been very willing in the past to structure his contract in a way that made it fit for San Jose, something that might have to happen again if he wants to keep playing. After making $2MM this season he will likely have to take another pay cut to stay in the league. While that may seem like a problem for some, after making more than $109MM during a long career but still never raising the Stanley Cup, Thornton is probably looking at the situation on the ice more than the dollar signs on the contract.
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