Joe Thornton stays around San Jose Sharks, deciding next step

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The San Jose Sharks made the biggest trade in the history of their franchise 17 years ago this week, sending defenseman Brad Stuart and forwards Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm to the Boston Bruins for center Joe Thornton.

All Thornton went on to do over the next 14-plus years in San Jose was win the Hart Trophy in 2006, collect 1,055 points in 1,104 regular season games, help the Sharks make the playoffs 12 times, reach the Western Conference final four times, and advance to the Stanley Cup final once in 2016.

So what’s Thornton been doing lately?

Right now, as he’s been back in San Jose, just biding his time.

Thornton, 43, hasn’t played in an NHL game since May 23 when he and the Florida Panthers lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who completed a four-game sweep in the second round of the playoffs.

Thornton hasn’t retired but perhaps also hasn’t decided what he wants to do next.

“He keeps everything pretty close (to the vest) right now, and I’m not just saying that to (the media). I don’t even know,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said early last month. “He just watches every day, comes to the games, and we talk here and there.

“If I was a guessing man, I think that he’s just piquing his own interest to see what he wants to do in the future.”

Thornton regularly attended Sharks practices and home games with members of the team’s front office through the first few weeks of this season, although such sightings have tapered off of late.

Still, the fact that Thornton wanted to be around the Sharks, as general manager Mike Grier hoped, speaks to how much he still loves the game.

“Obviously this organization thinks very highly of him as do all of the players in this dressing room,” Couture said. “If he wants to come around and spend time around us, he’s very much welcome.”

Joe Thornton, formerly with the Boston Bruins, adjusts a San Jose Sharks jersey during a news conference in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, Dec 1, 2005. The Sharks acquired Thornton, a star center, from Boston for three players in a trade between two last-place franchises desperate to shake up their dismal seasons. (AP Photo/Don Heupel) 

Thornton’s first game with the Sharks was on Dec. 2, 2005, two days after the blockbuster trade with the Bruins. He sparked an immediate turnaround, as the Sharks went from losing 10 games in a row to winning six straight.

That season, the Sharks went from last place in the five-team Pacific Division to second place, making the playoffs and beating the Nashville Predators in five games in the first round. They lost in the second round to the Edmonton Oilers in six games.

Thornton finished that year with 125 points and captured the Hart Trophy as the NHL player, “adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” of which there was little question.

A Sharks team spokesman said last month that Thornton did not wish to comment publicly on his future. But ask Sharks players about Thornton and what his presence around the team means to them, and a smile almost instantly comes across their faces.

“We just see him quickly sometimes. Obviously, we noticed that he’s watching practice,” Sharks forward Timo Meier said last month. “Just great seeing him around. We don’t really know what his plans are, but he just loves to be at the rink and he’s a guy that you love to be around.”

Defenseman Mario Ferraro said he has been at Thornton’s place in the area for dinner, just to catch up, although there wasn’t much talk of what the future held.

“He’s awesome,” Ferraro said. “Still one of my really good friends and I miss playing with him quite a bit.”

Kevin Labanc has been influenced by Thornton almost as much as anyone on the Sharks roster, as he had a career-high 56 points in 82 games in 2018-2019 when he was linemates with “Jumbo.” Thornton has passed on a ton of knowledge to Labanc, including one skating tip just recently.

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