Joe 'Jumbo Joe' Thornton is a face you're almost guaranteed to be familiar with as a hockey fan - if not for his stellar play, then his ever sought after beard. The Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies winner is an incredible hockey player that truly deserves to raise the cup. Having cracked the 100 point milestone twice in his long career, the 37-year-old has proven his offensive capabilities time and time again. Thornton's passing ability is truly incredible and to illustrate that point, 994 of his career 1375 points have been assists!
Don't let his beard and 6'4", 220 lb frame scare you, Joe is a gentle giant that beats you on the scoresheet as opposed to the literal sense. His lack of physicality is perhaps what has allowed him to have such a long and fruitful career - he has played in 1422 games over 20 NHL seasons while averaging 69 points per season! Miraculously, the one they call 'Jumbo Joe' still has a spring in his step and isn't finished yet.
At the conclusion of this season with the San Jose Sharks, Joe Thornton will be becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) and will undoubtedly be on many teams' radars. Considering his age and $6.75 million per year cap hit, Joe will likely be signed to a one or two-year contract and be subjected to some serious salary cuts. I'm sure Joe is fine with that and just wants to win a cup before his time in the NHL ends.
In this list, we will be looking at 15 NHL teams and their interest, or lack-there-of, in Joe Thornton based on a few various factors.
With all that out of the way, let's get into it!
15 Want: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are a team who have been on everybody’s radar this season, currently chilling at second in the Metropolitan Division. Looking at the Blue Jackets on paper, one might assume they’d be a middle-of-the-pack squad but somehow, they’ve found success and a lot of it.
With a lot of young and talented potential, this organization has nowhere to go but up. They really are solid throughout their lineup, but if you were to pick one area where they could strengthen, it would be down the middle. Their centremen essentially consist of third line players who are playing beyond their means.
The Blue Jackets are going to make the playoffs, that’s a sure thing but I don’t think they’ll make it past the first round. A large portion of their squad is not post-season experienced and I think their weakness down the middle will get exposed early.
This is where Joe Thornton comes in. With lots of cap room and almost no notable pending free agents, the Blue Jackets can sign Thornton and whoever else they need – most likely re-signing Sam Gagner. Thornton will add offence, much-needed depth at centre, and also playoff experience.
14 Stay Away: Boston Bruins
Currently sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division are the big, bad Boston Bruins. The B’s are on the downswing with all their star players getting older but they do have some young talent starting to make some waves. In the next few seasons, the Bruins will have to make some big moves in order to remain competitive.
The Bruins’ success has heavily relied on a very strong defensive core alongside strength up the middle. At centre, the Bruins are currently very strong with Patrice Bergeron – arguably the best centreman in the game, David Krejci as the #2, and also David Backes who can slot in at centre. Their blueline has been led by Zdeno Chara for quite some time and at 39 years of age, he is clearly on his way out.
With their strength down the middle and the deterioration of Chara on defence, I’d look for the Bruins to be making moves that will strengthen them on the back end. It is highly unlikely that Thornton will be returning to his former team as he really just isn’t needed at this point with the direction the Bruins are heading.
13 Want: Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes are currently seventh in the Pacific Division and in desperate need of change. The ‘Yotes’ have some of their big guns becoming UFAs in the offseason including their captain - Shane Doan, their leading scorer – Radim Vrbata, and one of their top centremen – Martin Hanzal.
I believe Doan will be resigning as he is 40 years old and not really on any other team’s radar. Hanzal, on the other hand, is likely to find a new team being 29 years old and probably on the back nine of his prime – something I’ve touched on in a previous article. Vrbata is a different story – he’s a pure sniper that needs a playmaker to be successful.
With the big Hanzal on the way out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Coyotes signing Joe Thornton with a $2-3 million salary trim to take his place. With one of the best playmakers in the league joining the roster, it would make sense to re-sign Vrbata and hopefully create some much-needed offence for the club.
12 Stay Away: Washington Capitals
On top of the Metropolitan Division are the high-flying offensive Washington Capitals. The ‘Caps’ are successful because of their offensive talent that is led by one of the best players in the league, Alex Ovechkin. Simply put, the Capitals are stacked – behind ‘Ovie’ is Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie and more.
With their offence and solid defence in front of one of the best goalies in the league, Braden Holtby, the ‘Caps’ certainly have a chance at a Stanley Cup this season. I don’t see them making any moves at the deadline or any notable signings in the offseason.
With the Capitals’ #1 and #2 centremen being Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, there is simply no spot for Joe Thornton. They really just don’t need a playmaker at this point, especially because they already have one of the best in Backstrom.
11 Want: New York Rangers
Sitting fourth in the fearsome Metropolitan Division are the New York Rangers. The Rangers have a lot of speed and a lot of depth making them a great team but they just don’t have that extra firepower needed to win the cup. They definitely need to make some changes this season or in the offseason if they have any hope of becoming cup contenders once again.
Up front, the Rangers certainly have talent and some young players with potential but there’s definitely some issues. Aside from the lackluster performance of Rick Nash, the Rangers are also fairly weak down the middle – they are essentially rolling with three, second-line centres. J.T. Miller has certainly stepped up this season, putting up 42 points already, but he’s just not the type of player you want with Nash.
The Rangers have the cap room and roster spot to sign Joe Thornton to a one or two-year contract. Joe would be the perfect compliment to Nash’s game and could be just what the big man needs to get his game back on course. The thought of Thornton and Nash working together is a scary one for oppositions – two big, strong skating, and talented players working the puck around the offensive end would be pretty hard to counter.
10 Stay Away: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are sixth in the Pacific Division and are in need of some big changes moving forward. A problem the Canucks have been facing for quite some time now is their serious lack of offensive production – it’s tough to win games when you average 2.28 goals per game (28th in the league).
At centre, the Canucks are pretty sound as 3/5 of their top scorers play down the middle. H. Sedin, Horvat, and Sutter make up a very strong centremen lineup but it’s on the wings where the Canucks are really lacking, especially down the right wing. The Canucks’ highest scoring winger has an ugly 10 points and that is simply just unacceptable.
The last thing the Canucks need is another playmaking centre like Henrik Sedin, so Joe Thornton will not be joining the Canucks in the offseason. Instead, I’d expect the Canucks to be looking for someone like Sharp who can flank Bo Horvat or even play with the Sedin twins.
9 Want: Chicago Blackhawks
As the dynasty rolls on, the Blackhawks currently reside at second in the Central Division. Chicago is arguably the best NHL team of the last decade, largely due to their infamous duo of Toews and Kane. They are an absolute offensive powerhouse with great defence to back them up – a roster that’s just as scary on paper as it is on the ice.
The Blackhawks’ offensive prowess comes from the wing where they are stacked with players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, and Marian Hossa. Down the middle, they have one of the best in the game in Toews and also an adequate #2 in Artem Anisimov. I don’t peg them as cup contenders this year (but don’t count them out) but they certainly could be next season.
Here is a scary thought – the Blackhawks signing Joe Thornton in the offseason. Yes, they are tight on cap space but with Desjardins becoming a UFA and freeing up an additional $800 thousand, they could sign ‘Jumbo Joe’. This would only work if Joe took a massive salary cut and signed a one-year contract for around $1-2 million. A move like that would almost certainly make them cup contenders.
8 Stay Away: Pittsburgh Penguins
Another dynasty, the ‘Pens’ are currently third in the stacked Metropolitan Division. The Penguins are an incredible hockey club who have been dominating the league ever since superstar, Sidney Crosby was drafted back in 2005 – a draft year I’ve covered in a previous article of mine.
At centre, the Penguins are stacked with a one-two punch of Crosby backed by Evgeni Malkin – one of the most skilled players in the league. The Penguins success comes with their depth and skill – names like Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz behind the aforementioned Crosby and Malkin make them an offensive threat only one or two teams can match.
With their current roster, the Penguins have a favorable chance at winning a cup, making it back-to-back championships. With their depth at centre and very limited cap space, there is no place for Joe Thornton at this point with the Penguins. A third line role just isn’t a good place for a player of Thornton’s caliber.
7 Want: St. Louis Blues
Resting at fourth in the Central Division are the St. Louis Blues who are another team on the fringe of cup contention. The Blues are a big and young team with only three players under 6’0”. On top of their size, they are also very talented. With some minor tweaks, the Blues could easily make a much-deserved run deep into the playoffs.
The Blues’ success relies heavily on their huge and talented defensive core stacked with names such as Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Carl Gunnarsson, and Parayko. Up front, they have one of the best snipers in the game, Vladimir Tarasenko but not too much more as far as offensive production goes. An addition of a playmaker to play with Tarasenko could be very dangerous.
With Berglund and Shattenkirk becoming UFAs, tons of cap room will be freed up and a void at centre will need to be filled. Joe Thornton would be the perfect asset to play with Tarasenko and really make the Blues’ first line a force to be reckoned with. On top of Thornton, I’d expect to see another big signing in the offseason – possibly Sharp.
6 Stay Away: Montreal Canadiens
The Habs are sitting pretty at first in the Atlantic Division and really don’t need to make any drastic changes. The Habs have a lot of depth at forward and defence in front of arguably the best goalie in the league, Carey Price. Their success comes from their speed and their unmatched transitional game.
The Canadiens are very strong down the middle when they’re healthy and have a lot riding on the development of 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk. On the wings, they are strong with the likes of Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov, Phillip Danault, and the currently injured Gallagher. With their current lineup, I don’t see the Habs making any major moves at the deadline.
The Canadiens are very tight on cap and with Radulov and David Desharnais both becoming UFAs, the management is going to have to make some tough calls in the offseason. I personally would take Radulov over Desharnais but Radulov is going to be very, very expensive. Joe Thornton is just not needed in Montreal, nor is there going to be enough money left over for him.
5 Want: New Jersey Devils
At the moment, the New Jersey Devils are resting at sixth in the Metropolitan Division. With the firepower that is in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils need to make some serious acquisitions in order to compete next season – let’s just forget about this season. The Devils are in desperate need of a complete and total overhaul.
The Devils have some great hockey players in their club and they really do have potential, but it’s not enough. Offensively speaking, their success is dependent on their left side with the likes of Mike Cammalleri and Taylor Hall. As an opponent, it’s easy enough to recognize their strength and to play accordingly. The Devils need more firepower, plain and simple.
I would expect to see a big trade at the deadline for an offensive defenceman and possibly a right winger to skate with Hall. In the offseason, I’d expect numerous signings as the Devils are sitting on an abundance of cap space. I’d expect the Devils to be interested in playmaking Joe Thornton to play with Cammalleri – a pure sniper, Shattenkirk to give some defensive firepower, and possibly even Sharp to add strength to the right side.
4 Stay Away: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts are currently sixth in the Atlantic Division and are playing nowhere near their potential. This is largely due to their captain and best player, Steven Stamkos being sidelined. They are a young team with tons of talent and potential and I just don’t see them needing anything besides the return of ‘Stammer’.
At centre, the Bolts are very deep, even without their #1. With names like Namestnikov, Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula and Alexander Killorn able to skate down the middle, they really don’t have much to worry about. In fact, all of those names are among the top-10 scorers of the team. When Stamkos is healthy they are a dominant hockey club, and I just think they need to ride out this wave for now.
The addition of a player like Thornton would be a short-term fix but create long-term issues. The return of Stamkos from LTIR (Long Term Injury Reserve) means the return of his $8.5 million/year salary and the pushing out of a great centreman who deserves a roster spot. Hang tight Tampa.
3 Want: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are currently sitting fifth in the Metropolitan Division and playing pretty decent hockey. The ‘Broad Street Bullies’ are a very capable hockey club who are right on the brink of being cup contenders. They have young talent but just have a couple holes in their lineup they need to plug.
I’d keep an eye on the Flyers around the trade deadline – personally, I’m expecting them to make a move for a solid defensive D-man. If they tighten up their back end a bit, I’d also expect an offseason signing of a much needed #2 centreman.
With ‘Jumbo Joe’ on the market and some of their big names also becoming UFAs, I could see the Flyers adding Joe. This would give the Flyers the ability to play either Jakub Voracek or Wayne Simmonds with Joe while the other one plays with Claude Giroux. A one-two punch like that would be great and it would also, in turn, strengthen their bottom-six forwards.
2 Stay Away: Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild are finally playing to their potential and resting on top of the Central Division. They’re fast, they’re skilled, and they have a ton of depth, making them definite cup contenders. Currently third in the league in goals for, and second best in the league for goals against, the Wild have been showcasing a very complete game of hockey.
Offensively the Wild are incredibly stacked – especially at centre as the team’s top three scorers are all centremen. What makes them so successful is how they spread the scoring around – the Wild have eight players with 30 or more points already, and three players tied at 24 points.
With their depth at centre, there is no need for Joe Thornton at all. In fact, there’s no need for any offseason signings at this point. Also, there is no need for any trade deadline moves either unless they could somehow pick up an affordable top-four offensive defenceman.
1 Want: San Jose Sharks
Let’s not forget the Sharks can resign ‘Jumbo Joe’ if they wish. The Sharks are in good shape right now, currently sitting first in the Pacific Division. They are a big and talented hockey club with lots of playoff experience but are also hanging onto two very old and expensive players – Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
The Sharks are very strong down the middle and upfront in general but have some money and age they need to trim. Thornton and Marleau are both 37-years-old and have similar salaries with Marleau at $6.67 million and Thornton at $6.75 million – both are pending UFAs and only one if either will be a Shark next season.
Personally, I believe Marleau will be resigned in San Jose for a sizeable salary cut simply because he can play the wing as well as centre. However, they could just as easily decide to stick with Thornton. Also, the Sharks definitely have high hopes for the young Tomas Hertl at centre and can also slot team captain, Joe Pavelski into the middle if need be. I think the Sharks will try to make another long run in the playoffs with the squad they have but it’ll be open season when the playoffs end.