With Joe Thornton leaving the Sharks to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, it’s only fitting to honor and encompass his legendary career in San Jose with 19 thoughts.
After all, Thornton wore No. 19 for 15 years with the Sharks.
1. News of his departure to Toronto was unsurprising, yet a jolt all at the same time. Thornton had been on a series of one-year contracts in San Jose, and we knew other suitors would emerge. But seeing his name and face officially next to the Maple Leafs logo for the first time certainly hit different.
2. It’s officially the end of an era. Not to discredit Patrick Marleau or any of the talented Sharks teams before 2005, but trading for Thornton is when San Jose’s hockey franchise became perennial contenders, and were seen in a much different light.
3. It’s too bad Thornton’s final game in teal came right before the pandemic struck, meaning there was no formal countdown or goodbye. Although if you ask Jumbo, he is not one to gloat — and probably would have preferred it this way.
4. There are two ways to measure Thornton’s impact in San Jose. The numbers paint one of the all-time greats in longevity, consistency and productivity. He’s got milestones and accomplishments among the all-time greats of hockey. But less measurable and likely more important was the culture Thornton established and maintained inside the Sharks' dressing room.
5. The decision to sign specifically with Toronto makes a lot of sense, when you consider Thornton is an Ontario native, his parents still live there, and it’s much closer to his beloved farm. Much as Toronto should be in contention next season, this is also a family move for Thornton.
6. It’s greatly expected that the upcoming NHL season will be shorter and condensed, meaning switching teams mid-season could have been a complexity. During a pandemic, it’d undoubtedly easier for Thornton to sign and stay with one team, which is why his contract contains a no-movement clause.
7. Jumbo has always been in exceptional physical condition, and done all the right things over decades to remain healthy and contribute at 41 years of age. Including two recent major knee injuries, surgeries and recoveries. Either one of these setbacks would have been enough to shelve most NHL careers. But Thornton wouldn’t go out like that.
8. Ask yourself in 2020, how many emerging NHL superstars come with the “pass-first” mentality? It’s virtually unheard of, but that’s where Thornton made his mark for so many seasons in San Jose.
9. The shirtless interviews… I’m not ever certain how or precisely when those became his ‘thing,’ but Thornton always preferred to be in front of the cameras answering questions with no shirt, no shoes, and not much clothing at all.
10. He always played the game within the game. For instance in 2011, when Thornton tactically infuriated Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin during a conversation with officials by relatedly placing his index finger on Sedin’s nose. Or in 2019, when Thornton retaliated after a slash from Carolina’s Petr Mrazek by skating back to the crease and sending the net minder to his keister after a whistle.
11. Thornton was an ultimate skill player who never shied away from dropping the gloves. There were countless scraps to recall, including high-profile encounters with fellow captains like Jonathan Toews of Chicago, and Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim. He also wasn’t afraid to matchup with known bruisers like Tom Wilson or even get a handful of beard removed in a tangle with then-Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri.
12. In professional sports, it’s quite rare to be stripped of captaincy, yet remain on the team as a leader. It’s not to suggest Thornton was initially thrilled with this maneuver in 2014, but it also became very clear over the years since that he put ego aside in a difficult situation, which is more than most of us are capable of.
13. “The Jumbo Slide” was one of Thornton’s signature celebrations. It concluded Game 6 of 2011’s first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, after he scored that series-winning goal in Los Angeles in overtime. Over the seasons, Thornton seemed more inclined to soak in the moments and milestones than he did in younger years.
14. There was no better first impression in San Jose than winning the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophy. In his final 23 games with Boston, Thornton tallied 33 points. Which was impressive, but a stark contrast to his 92 points in the first 58 games with San Jose.
15. The, uh, Rooster Trick. If you’ve read this far, and don’t know the backstory, I’ll let Google be your guide. But safe to say Thornton always spoke his mind without reservation when it really mattered, specifically in defense of a young teammate like Tomas Hertl. Thornton is still awaiting that elusive four-goal performance.
16. The Stanley Cup Final experience of 2016. It’s too bad we can’t bottle that up, and go back in time to give Thornton one more chance at winning it all. During those times against Pittsburgh, it was easy to get caught up in the moment, but upon reflecting, hockey won’t be fair until Thornton capitalizes on another chance.
17. There were some injuries, but so many more you didn’t know about. For better or worse, hockey players rarely reveal ailments. But Thornton constantly dealt with an undisclosed broken finger or toe (or worse), and it was difficult to endure times of criticism when pundits didn’t know the full scope.
18. First to the rink, first on the ice. Over all the years, Thornton remained the first Shark to arrive at SAP Center on game nights, and the first skater on the ice for nearly every practice session. Given his status and determination, it seemed to establish a distinct standard for other teammates.
19. His No. 19 will someday hang in San Jose’s rafters. And it will also be that image of him wearing teal that accompanies Thornton into the Hockey Hall of Fame.