Leafs Pursuing Thornton?

Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
June 07 2014 10:11PM

Here we go again. The rumour mill is spinning with speculation as to the Leafs' target for a first line centre, According to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, Joe Thornton appears to be the "that guy". But does it make any sense? Yes and no. Lets talk for a second. 

Is He A Good Target?

I went on Twitter earlier and asked "the people" what they would give up to acquire him. A lot of people said they flat out wouldn't take him at any cost, because he's not a good hockey player any more.

Contrary to popular belief, players in the NHL don't turn into a smouldering pile of ashes the second they turn 30 years old. Yes, Joe Thornton is about to turn 35, and his best years are behind him. But at the same time, there's still gas left in the tank and juice left to be squeezed.

Playing with Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, two talented players but not playing natural positions (LW instead of C, and RW instead of RD), Thornton put up 11 goals and 65 assists in 82 games. But beyond that, he also finished 7th amongst centres (41 GP+) in Even Strength points per 60 minutes, and 13th amongst Forwards. 

Not just that, but he's been one of the league's most dominant healthy forwards over the years. Just look at this:

Minimum Minutes Thornton Minutes Points Per 60 Minutes  Rank
2007-14 (7 Years) 6500 7638 2.27 7th
2008-14 (6 Years) 5500 6451 2.16 17th
2009-14 (5 Years) 4500 5268 2.18 18th
2010-14 (4 Years) 3500 4140 2.04 36th
2011-14 (3 Years) 2500 2993 2.18 13th
2012-14 (2 Years) 1500 1777 2.19 24th
2013-14 (1 Years) 1000 1129 2.5 10th

Combine that with the fact that Thornton is a stellar powerplay forward (5.27 points per 60 in the past 7 years, 6th amongst those with 1500+ 5 on 4 minutes) and focuses on vision rather than skating ability to disperse the puck, and it's not crazy to think that he could be a noticeable upgrade down the middle, at least for a few years.

What's Fair For Toronto?

Here's the issue; a lot of people are concerned that such a move would cost the Leafs Jake Gardiner and/or Nazem Kadri. If this gets into a bidding war (possible, as Zeisberger suggests there are about half a dozen teams in the running), then it's certainly possible that this could be the case.

With that said, if the Sharks are actually committing to the departure of Thornton, I can't doubt that they're going to maximize his absolute value. The team is still very much in their "window of opportunity" and aren't looking to get assets back. Trading away their best player is one of those massive shakeup to show new direction type of moves, like the time the Boston Bruins traded away the very same Joe Thornton for a couple of insignificant players and a bag of crunchy Cheetos. 

A sensible attempt at putting out a big but not future-destroying offer centres around offering the Sharks a package involving a combination of Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson, Tyler Bozak, and James Reimer.

Franson is a player who many believe to be underused and undervalued by the Leafs organization, and can help fill the void at the right point that Dan Boyle's departure leaves without having to move Burns back. Lupul could be intriguing to the Sharks in that he'd allows them to pick two of Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture and permanently glue them to top-six centre roles, Bozak is a long shot but might be interesting to them as a third liner, and Reimer could be used to split time with Antti Niemi if they don't feel confidence in Alex Stalock to give that competition.

Ultimately, those four pieces are all guys that you'd like to keep in your core, but aren't major building blocks. Thornton isn't a long term block, but he buys the Leafs considerable time if acquired. They would give supplementary depth to an already good Sharks Roster, if that's the direction they feel they need to head.

Is it Likely?

Probably not. As much as one would like to think that the Leafs could find a scenario that actually makes sense for both teams, a bidding war isn't out of the realm of possibility for such a top end talent, even given the circumstances. Toronto's management is a lot of things, but I doubt they let gut themselves for a short term fix.

...right?

Who knows. In any case, I'll start to buy into this more if the Sharks make it more clear that Thornton is on the market. I feel like that would be a negative move for them, and that Doug Wilson is smart enough to trust in him and the bulk of his core and move forward with him. Yes, the first round brought his team a monumental collapse, but it shouldn't define years of effort. Especially when you look at what the Kings are doing right now.

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I bring news about the Toronto Marlies, opinions about the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a bunch of ridiculous thoughts about everything else.
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#1 Bobby Cappuccino
June 08 2014, 10:49AM
Trash it!
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I like Thornton a lot and would love to see him between JVR and Kessel for a couple years. It would be our first real full first line in ages.

But at the cost of Kadri and Gardiner? No thank you. Would have to be those other targets you mentioned - i.e. players that we'd be fine with giving up. The problem is, I doubt the Sharks want players that we'd be willing to give up easily.

Sigh.

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#2 Stan Smith
June 08 2014, 09:28AM
Trash it!
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While I can see the value of having experienced players with team leadership on their team, and I am sure that Thornton would assume that roll almost immediately, I agree that you don't want to deal away young players that have a good chance to become stars. This is exactly one of the problems that has plagued the leafs for years, trading away youth for former stars in the waning years of their career.

I could see players like Lupul, Franson and Reimer being willingly dealt for someone like Thornton but I would be very surprised, if not shocked, if they dealt Bozak. I could see them adding someone like Gunnarson to the deal.

However,I would think that the only way San Jose would deal Thornton would be for youth with high end potential which is the one thing I can't see the leafs giving up.

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