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Photo Credit: © Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

A Quick Look Through the Free Agent Pool: Joe Thornton

Under the leadership of Kyle Dubas, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster is likely to remain a constant work in progress.

There will always be a market inefficiency to tap into; a weakness to address; a missing piece to acquire. It’s the natural path for any forward-thinking team. And while operating within a league that requires constant ascension, Dubas is a GM who rarely finds happiness in the concept of “good enough”. Which, at the moment, is more or less what these Leafs project to be.

Could another dip into the free-agent pool be enough to change that? Good question! And after centring on three different names last week, let’s continue our quick look through the remainder of the 2019 UFA class by refining our focus to find out.

Joe Thornton

Position: Centre 

Age (as of October 2nd, 2019): 40…thousand years old

2018-19 Cap Hit: $5,000,000

2018-19 Stat Line: 16 goals, 35 assists for 51 points 

You have to at least consider it, right? I mean, if not purely out of respect?

Joe Thornton‘s birth certificate may recognize him as a 40-year-old man, but after tearing both his ACL and MCL back in 2017-18 at age 38 and then proceeding to play on them for twenty-two minutes per night, those are a hard 40 years.

Still, it shouldn’t be this easy for a guy who inches closer and closer to Senior’s discount eligibility by the day to rack up 50-point seasons with such ease. And yet, here Thronton is; actually…improving? That can’t be right.

Despite averaging four minutes below his career ice time average last season, Thornton still reached his highest goal total since the 2015-16 campaign with 16, experiencing relatively normal luck as his shooting percentage remained more or less on par with its normal rate (9.9% to his usual 9.3%).

This is not an accident. Thornton is open to change – a player who seemingly refuses to let an ever-transitioning game pass him by.

While his days as a top-line pivot may be long over at this point, Thornton’s willingness to fall into more of a depth role for the Sharks in recent years has allowed him to prolong an already-terrific career. This past season saw Thornton spend the bulk of his even-strength deployment alongside Marcus Sorenson and Kevin Labanc, and it was this nightly dose of sheltered minutes that allowed Thornton to continue succeeding in a number of the areas he always had.

Thornton dominated the faceoff circle in 2018-19 by earning a 52.7% success rate on draws (he’s never posted a sub-50% season in the 12 years this metric has been tracked), drove play to the tune of a 56.9% CF/60 at 5v5, and even produced nearly the entirety of his offence at even strength (31 of 35 points came at 5v5; 14 of 21 assists were primary, per NaturalStatTrick).

What more can you ask for from someone who should honestly be spending a shirtless retirement on a beach by now?

Not to mention, Thornton is far from a one-dimensional player.

(Credit: HockeyViz)

With Thornton on the ice, San Jose surrendered unblocked shots at a rate 10% below their 2018-19 team average, thriving specifically in the area of suppressing opposing shots along the perimeter. Would you like the Sharks to be a tad more stringent in their own crease during Thornton’s minutes? Of course. But his ability to improve the defensive prowess of those around him is impressive nonetheless, and could be a valuable addition to any team that lacks some.

You know, like the Leafs.

Of course, the punishing combination of health, age and, to a lesser extent, asking price are the main factors working against Thornton here. In fact, they can all probably explain why he hasn’t just re-upped for another ride in San Jose already – the only team he is reported to be interested in.

There’s a ticking clock that underscores everything Thornton does. Such is the reality for players whose bodies bear the miles he does. Even the concept of a one-year deal carries noted risk, with Father Time lurking around every corner to catch Jumbo Joe midseason and render him a $5 million husk of dead cap – which a team like the Sharks simply cannot afford.

Needless to say, though, if Thornton remains on the market in the lead up to training camp, Dubas could certainly do worse than giving him a call. He could even keep the beard.



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