Report: Thornton, Leafs have 'mutual interest' in free agency


Stop me if you've heard this before: One of the longest-tenured players in Sharks history reportedly could leave San Jose in free agency to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Taking one look outside and seeing people walk around in masks will remind you it's October of 2020 rather than July of 2017, but the Leafs once again reportedly are pursuing a Sharks franchise legend to bolster their forward depth. Joe Thornton and Toronto have "some mutual interest," The Athletic's James Mirtle reported Tuesday.

The Leafs pursued Thornton when he was a free agent in 2017, but he re-signed with the Sharks on a one-year contract. Patrick Marleau, who re-signed with the Sharks on Tuesday, signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Toronto that offseason.

Thornton, 41, has been with the Sharks ever since, scoring 31 points in 70 games last season. This offseason appears to be the closest he has come to leaving San Jose since 2017, after the veteran center expressed disappointment he wasn't dealt to a contender at the trade deadline in February. Thornton is entering his 23rd NHL season, and he doesn't have many runs at an elusive Stanley Cup left.

The Leafs, despite being eliminated in a play-in series by the Columbus Blue Jackets this postseason, are much closer to contention than the Sharks, who finished last in the Pacific Division and Western Conference last season. With a young core led by Auston Matthews and some smart additions this offseason, Toronto is pushing for a Cup in a way San Jose isn't.

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Still training with Swiss team HC Davos, Thornton is listening to offers, according to Mirtle. Mirtle speculated that the Leafs could sign Thornton to a contract worth up to $1.5 million, offering him a third-line role with the chance to play on the power play alongside Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

Thornton told The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun he will come back to play next season, but that he's in no rush to sign with a team. The Leafs' reported interest should give him plenty to think about.