Joe Thornton's pursuit of the evasive Stanley Cup will have to wait at least one more year.
The longtime Sharks forward signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason, and their status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender factored heavily into his decision. As fate would have it, though, Thornton's first season in Toronto would conclude like so many of his 15 seasons in San Jose did: In utter disappointment.
After taking a three-games-to-one series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs blew all three chances to claim a series victory, ultimately losing 3-1 in Game 7 on Monday night. The Canadiens advanced to the second round, where they'll face the Winnipeg Jets, while the Leafs are yet again left to wonder what went wrong.
Including Monday's defeat, Toronto has now lost eight straight series-clinching games, and its 54-year championship drought remains the longest active streak in the NHL.
Sharks fans likely don't care too much about the Maple Leafs' elimination, other than the fact that many surely were pulling for them to win it all due to Thornton's presence on the team. San Jose's all-time leader in assists remains one of the most popular players in franchise history, and while it would have been bittersweet to see Thornton finally lift the Cup in a different jersey, Sharks fans had no greater rooting interest in this season's playoffs.
And now the question is, will Thornton return for a 24th season in the league? Or, will the man who has played the sixth-most games in NHL history finally hang up his skates without ever achieving the ultimate goal?
Thornton is set to be a free agent, and if he indeed does run it back for another season, one would have to imagine he likely would do so with a team that gives him another shot at winning the Cup. The Sharks don't appear to be a match for that, so that might rule out a potential return.
On the other hand, if Thornton still wants to play, but there aren't any offers from cup contenders, perhaps he would look fondly upon his old stomping grounds. Thornton potentially could move as high as third on the all-time games played list with another season, and while we don't know if the Sharks would be interested in that, they did just go through basically the same thing with Patrick Marleau.
Thornton typically has waited long into the offseason before deciding if and where he'll play, and it wouldn't be surprising if he did so again.
Regardless of when he chooses to retire, though, it would only be fitting if he did so as a Shark.