Leafs by the numbers: Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton is coming home. I mean, he was already in the grander scheme of things, but today I mean it quite literally.

Joe Thornton in a Leafs uniform is damned exciting, even if it is happening a decade later than the ideal time frame for it, we’ll take it. The man is a treasure, and that’s what made it a bit of a challenge to come up with a number for him. Do we go with 700,000, and the bargain deal he took to play here? Do we go with 97, as Jumbo Joe makes his case for being the greatest player to ever wear that number? Do we go with 4, for goal total we want to see him put up in a single game? Do we go with 1, because we probably won’t get many seasons more than that out of him.

Instead, we’ll go with 3.5 as Thornton’s number as we try to figure out if Joe is going to be a third or fourth line center this season.

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I guess the main argument is about Thornton vs. Kerfoot. Generally speaking Kerfoot’s numbers are better, but they are also better numbers aided by games played on the wing on the Tavares line. Thornton on the other hand played on a pretty bad San Jose team. Interestingly enough, Thornton had a slightly higher time on ice than Kerfoot last season, and had a few more points than Alex. Given his 11 points in 12 games in Switzerland, it’s safe to assume that Joe still has enough of it, and could take the third line role from Kerfoot.

Now, not to make a Joe Thornton post entirely about Alex Kerfoot, but the fact that Kerfoot could serve a purpose on the wing in the top six probably works to the Leafs benefit. As does the fact that he could just as easily accompany Joe on the third line. That’s some nice flexibility, but leads to the next question?

Who do the Leafs have centering their fourth line? The answer there might be Jason Spezza, maybe Travis Boyd has an impressive training camp, or maybe the Leafs are better off with Joe Thornton there, and the line being used almost as a second third line rather than the usual drop off we see from the 3rd to 4th line.

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Assuming that the wingers the Leafs will have to choose from for the third and fourth line are Wayne Simmonds, Nick Robertson, Alexander Barabanov, Jimmy Vesey, Joey Anderson, and Jason Spezza, it’s easy to make an argument that the Leafs will have 3rd line caliber players on the fourth line not just in the center role, but on the wing as well.

Not a bad situation. It’s also not a bad situation that in a year of illness and injury that the Leafs have the depth within the group and the versatility of players like Kerfoot and Spezza who can move to from the wing to center and back again as needed, and players like Thornton that can move up and down the lineup to support any gaps in the lineup.

It’s hard not to be excited about having an option like Thornton at the Leafs disposal. A special teams player, a player who can comfortably line up amongst any of the bottom nine forward positions, not to mention one of the best leaders in the game, and someone who wants a Stanley Cup more than any other person on the planet.

Whether he’s the 3rd line center or the 4th line center, we can assume that Thornton will likely get around 3rd line minutes, and that’s what matters at the end of the day. The Leafs get size, sheltered offensive, and defensive responsibility for the low, low cost of $700k a year, and even if it’s the only year that happens, it’s going to make for an exciting 2021 season.