Maple Leafs: It’s last call for veteran center Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton is heading home for one last kick at the can. The Toronto Maple Leafs will welcome the veteran center in what is sure to be his final NHL season.

After spending 15 years with the San Jose Sharks — that following eight in Boston — Joe Thornton is heading home to join the Toronto Maple Leafs with his sights set on winning the one thing that has evaded him throughout his glorious career; a Stanley Cup.

It seems kind of comical to suggest Thornton is heading to Toronto in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup, understanding it is a franchise that hasn’t won the coveted trophy since 1967. Still, it’s a roster assembled by Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas that is expected to be in the conversation when it’s all said and done.

Thornton is from St. Thomas, Ontario, which is just a short two-hour ride from Toronto.  It’s a homecoming, so to speak, for the 41-year old center.

It’s apparent that the Leafs are trying to mix in some cheap veteran players to a primarily youthful core. The Leafs re-signed Jason Spezza along with adding Thornton for a mere $700,000 each.  The organization also added rugged veteran winger Wayne Simmonds who will bring some much-needed sandpaper to Toronto’s group of bottom-six forwards.

Can the Leafs core finally pull through for Thornton?

The Leafs will be led by superstar Auston Matthews, along with Mitch Marner, and captain John Tavares, but adding a player like Thornton who spews leadership may prove to be the teams’ most valuable offseason addition.  That is high praise knowing Toronto spent a generous $5 million per season in free agency on defenseman T.J. Brodie.

Thornton recently returned home from playing in Switzerland with Davos HC, where he’d been playing since October.  It’s a great tune-up for the veteran who hadn’t played in a competitive game since the league locked out this past March due to the coronavirus pandemic.  It had been Thornton’s third stint with Davos in his career; he played with the Swiss club during both NHL lockouts once in ’04-’05 and again in ’12-’13.

Thornton contributed nearly a point per game this season, with Davos HC recording five goals and six assists during 12 games this past Fall.

Thornton’s time is quickly running out, but he remains a valuable depth forward who can contribute in a big way on the power-play for Toronto in 2021.  Eight of Thornton’s 31 points last season came on San Jose’s power play.  Throughout his career, Jumbo Joe has amassed 1,055 points in 1,104 games.

A whopping 402 of those 1,055 career points have come on the power-play.  Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs produced the sixth-best power-play in the NHL, converting on 23% of their opportunities.

Thornton currently ranks seventh in NHL history with 1,089 career assists with a chance to swiftly build on that playing with Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Reilly on the Leafs’ top power-play unit.

Adding Thornton for just $700,000 may pay off in a big way for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.