Joe Thornton Set To Enter NHL Free Agency; Should Bruins Make A Push?

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Joe Thornton, creeping up on 40 years of age with nearly 1,500 NHL games under his belt, is about to do something he hasn’t done in his illustrious NHL career.

Thornton is about to hit the market in earnest as a soon-to-be-38-year-old unrestricted free agent.

Thornton signed two in-season contract extensions with the San Jose Sharks (in 2008 and 2014) that sandwiched an extension he signed as free agency began in 2011, saying at the time there was “no question I was going to re-sign (in San Jose).”

And when the Boston Bruins traded him to the Sharks in 2005, it came shortly after he signed a three-year deal to stay in Boston.

There are plenty who believe Thornton ultimately will return to the Sharks shortly after free agency begins Saturday. Thornton and Patrick Marleau (another UFA) have become something of a package deal, and if neither finds suitable long-term pacts on the market, it’s assumed they’ll both stay put.

But there doesn’t appear to be any shortage of interest in Thornton. LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reported earlier this week, citing multiple sources, the Kings — one of the Sharks’ most bitter rivals — already reached out to Thornton. On Thursday, TSN’s Pierre Le Brun cited sources saying the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators are interested, too.

Could the Bruins also be among a reported number of clubs who could reach out to Thornton?

The 18-year veteran made his NHL debut with Boston all the way back in 1997 (!) as an 18-year-old. His best hockey clearly is behind him, and he’s coming off a season in which he scored just seven goals, and he hasn’t scored more than 20 goals since 2010-11.

But goal scoring never really has been the focal point of Thornton’s game. He’s a facilitator, and he did have 43 assists last season, a figure that tied for 23rd in the NHL. The Bruins certainly could use that sort of production, especially given the issues they had getting any sort of pivot production from the third or fourth lines in 2016-17.

You certainly could do worse than a trio of centers consisting of Thornton, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

As is almost always the case, it will come down to money. Thornton carried a cap hit of $6.75 million last season. He’s reportedly seeking a three-year deal. One would assume Thornton wouldn’t be making as much annually given the contract would expire as he was about to turn 41 years old, but if enough teams are bidding for his services, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he ends up with average annual value at least nearing his most recent figure.

If that’s the case, it’s probably too rich for the Bruins’ blood. Boston, as it stands now, has about $7 million of salary cap room, but that doesn’t include a presumed hefty raise for winger David Pastrnak, who is a restricted free agent. And again, he turns 38 on July 2, and the Bruins might be better suited addressing other areas instead of adding center depth.

But who knows. Stranger things have happened, and it certainly would be interesting to see Jumbo Joe return to Boston to end his career 20 years after it began.

Thumbnail photo via Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports Images

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