Joe Thornton is not ready to give up on his dreams of lifting Lord Stanley.
After a one-year stop in Toronto that ended with another first-round exit for the Maple Leafs, the 42-year-old Thornton has officially signed on for what will be his 24th NHL season. And he will be taking his talents to South Beach for that campaign by way of a one-year deal for the league minimum $750,000 with the Florida Panthers.
In addition to opening the door to all sorts of ‘old people love moving to Florida’ jokes, Thornton’s move to Florida adds to what’s been a strong summer push in Sunrise, with the team adding the Sabres’ Sam Reinhart via trade and keeping 2021 deadline pickups Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour around on reasonable extensions.
Thornton will also be allowed to skate as a strong supporting cast member on a team headlined by do-it-all center Aleksander Barkov, and will bring some veteran leadership to a truly up-and-coming team that could use it.
Drafted by the Bruins with the No. 1 overall pick in 1997, it’s actually been nearly 16 years since the Bruins parted with Thornton in exchange for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart. (Then-Ducks general manager Brian Burke still believes he had a better offer on the table, and it’s kinda hard to argue his point if he’s telling the truth.)
One of the game’s premier playmakers throughout his career, Thornton is seventh on the league’s all-time assists list, with 1,104 apples, and enters the 2021-22 season just 31 assists behind Paul Coffey for his share of the No. 6 spot, and also ranks 14th on the all-time points list, with 1,529 points.
Thornton also currently ranks sixth on the NHL’s all-time games played list, at 1,680. Only Ron Francis (1,731), Jaromir Jagr (1,733), Mark Messier (1,756), Gordie Howe (1,767), and ex-Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau (1,779) have played more.
Another interesting wrinkle to Thonton’s return: If the 44-year-old Zdeno Chara remains unsigned after spending last year with the Capitals, Thornton will actually begin the 2021-22 season as the league’s oldest active player.
Thornton and the Panthers will make their first 2021-22 trip to Boston on Saturday, Oct. 30. That will actually be Thornton’s first trip to Boston in anything other than a Sharks or Bruins jersey, too, as the Maple Leafs did not make a trip to Boston during the 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.