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A Joe Thornton homecoming could be worthwhile

One team that’ll be interesting to watch ahead of Monday’s trade deadline will be the San Jose Sharks, a team limping to the finish line after coming nowhere near reaching expectations.

For just the second time in the post-lockout era, the Sharks are going to miss the playoffs. And, with that, we’re looking at a mini-firesale. San Jose has already dealt away impending free agent Brenden Dillon to the Capitals and more veterans could be on the way out as rentals in the next few days. Most notably, Joe Thornton.

It’s been a while since we last talked about Thornton being traded. After the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead, ultimately losing in seven games to the rival Los Angeles Kings back in 2014, there was talk about issues in the room and possibly blowing the team up. Those talks continued the following season when the Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time in the Thornton era.

But, through thick and thin, up and down, Thornton has remained a Shark. He’s now on his third-consecutive one-year deal with San Jose as he’s shown an overwhelming dedicating to sticking with the team rather than giving things a go elsewhere. Will that be the case again this year, with the Sharks already completely out of the race and the 40-year-old Thornton possibly seeking one final kick at the can?

According to Thornton, that isn’t something he’s thought about yet. This is obviously just a PR answer to avoid a media shit-storm.

The general feeling around the league is that general manager Doug Wilson has a For Sale sign up on the team and that he’s trying to move out as many players as possible to recoup assets from going all-in over the past few years.

How does this affect the Leafs?

In Thursday’s 31 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman took a look at where every NHL team stands as we approach the trade deadline. One of the things he mentioned when it came to the Leafs was a possible interest in Thornton, who he believes could provide something to a team looking for some added depth.

Of course, Thornton isn’t the player he used to be. Nowhere close. But as far as 40-year-olds go, Thornton is still kicking it out there. He has two goals and 25 points through 59 games on a Sharks team that ranks towards the bottom of the league in scoring. He’s also playing 15 minutes per night, posting positive possession numbers to boot.

No, you aren’t getting a game-changing, franchise centre in Old Man Thornton, but you’re getting a quality depth veteran who can still play. Think along the lines of Jason Spezza. Everybody including Mike Babcock thought he was washed this fall and he’s ended up being a very solid bottom-six contributor to the team this season.

As of right now, the Leafs are operating with Frederik Gauthier as their third-line centre as Alex Kerfoot has moved into a top-six winger role to compensate for the injury to Andreas Johnsson. There are two things to note there. First, The Goat is in over his head as the third-line centre. Second, Kerfoot is better as a winger than he is as a centre. Adding another centre to the mix ahead of the deadline would do wonders for Toronto’s depth down the stretch.

Looking up and down the list of selling teams, there isn’t exactly an overwhelming list of quality centres available for trade. Acquiring Thornton, a rental, might not be ideal, but he’s surprisingly one of the better and more realistic options out there. The key, of course, is that he would have to waive his no-movement clause to come to Toronto and there’s no guarantee that happens.

If the Leafs don’t acquire Thornton, it’s inevitable that he’s going to be traded back to Boston at the trade deadline and he’s going to win the Stanley Cup as a Bruin, beating the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs along the way. You don’t want that, do you? Nope. Better find a way to get this done.