SAN JOSE – Off of the ice, Joe Thornton is a notoriously chill dude. There isn’t a whole lot that phases the veteran center and future Hall of Famer, who appears to go through his non-hockey playing life with a remarkably even-keeled attitude.
We’re talking about the kind of guy that signs a one-year, $8 million contract sitting on a lawn mower. Just as the latest example.
Thornton couldn’t help but admit on Sunday, though, that all of the interest he received as an unrestricted free agent knocked him for a loop.
“There was a lot of interest, to be honest. I was kind of shocked that there was the interest that there was,” Thornton said. “It was crazy. Throughout the whole thing I talked to [GM] Doug [Wilson] a bunch, I talked to our owner, Hasso [Plattner]. Everybody has been so great to me and my family. It’s been crazy.”
But despite a reported 17 teams ringing his or his agent’s phone, Thornton implied that he never really had any plans of leaving the place he’s called home for the past 11-and-a-half seasons.
“It was nice getting courted by all these teams. I felt bad saying, ‘hey, I’m going back to San Jose,’ but that’s where my heart is and that’s where I’m happy,” Thornton said.
What Thornton isn’t so happy about is longtime teammate Patrick Marleau leaving town on a three-year, $18.75 million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thornton, who turned 38 on Sunday, made no secret that he wanted Marleau to return to the Sharks. Instead, a report from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said that the Sharks’ final offer to Marleau was two years and $10 million, much less than he got in Toronto.
Indications are that Thornton would have settled for less than the $8 million he got had the Sharks found a way to ink his buddy Marleau, too.
“Joe was so flexible with his contract, he agreed a couple days ago on the contract with some different versions depending on the circumstances,” Wilson said. “I can’t say enough about Joe being committed to making it work to keep the group together. … Joe deserves a huge compliment for what he was willing to do.”
Thornton said: “I was in constant talks with Patty, texting and calling each other. Obviously I’m bummed that Patty’s not coming back. But I think he’s going to do great in Toronto and I think it’s going to be a good fit. Patty is going to be a Shark for life, and he’s going to go down as the best Shark of all time. I’m just happy for him and his family. As far as the Sharks are concerned, everybody has got to just pick up the goal scoring a little bit and move on.”
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That he settled for a one-year deal, rather than the three years he was seeking when the process began, is evidence that Thornton is confident that he’ll be fully recovered from a left knee injury that required surgery on April 24. Although he’s not 100 percent now, Thornton said he’s “pretty darn close.”
Thornton plans on skating in Switzerland in about two weeks, which is his typical offseason routine as his family relocates to his wife’s home country for about a month.
Thornton had less time to train last summer, due to the short summer from the Sharks advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and the World Cup of Hockey in September. He said he’s focusing on his legs right now.
“I haven’t trained my legs like this ever in my career, so my legs are going to be stronger than ever,” said Thornton, who had seven goals and 43 assists last season.
If everything goes well, it could be another one-year deal this time next year.
“Working with Doug, I think one year works at this point of my career. Just really go year-by-year and see how I feel. I feel like I’ve got a lot left in the tank, and hopefully after this deal I’ll keep signing. I felt comfortable with it, the team felt comfortable with [it]. That simple, I guess.”