Editor's Note: For having only existed as an NHL franchise for 27 seasons, the Sharks sure have been involved in a seemingly inordinate number of headline-stealing trades. Some of the greatest players in San Jose franchise history have been acquired via trade, and each has inevitably played a major role in the successful evolution from expansion team to perennial cup contender. This week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five most important trades in Sharks franchise history, concluding with the trade for Joe Thornton.
What other trade could it have been?
On Nov. 30, 2005, the Sharks acquired superstar center Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins for defenseman Brad Stuart and forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. Sturm (1996) and Stuart (1998) were first-round picks in the NHL drafts that sandwiched Thornton’s (1997), but that package for this player?
It was -- and remains -- general manager Doug Wilson’s crown jewel in terms of trades, a coup that immediately catapulted the Sharks in to Stanley Cup contention.
San Jose finished two wins shy of the Final in the previous season, but a lockout wiped away the entirety of the 2004-05 NHL season. The Sharks floundered in their return to the ice, going 8-12-4 in their first 24 games.
The immediate aftermath of the trade was a sign of things to come. Thornton assisted on two Jonathan Cheechoo goals in his Sharks debut, and San Jose won each of his first six games.
Thornton eventually won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player that season, and although the Sharks were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, his arrival marked a clear turning point for the franchise. San Jose no longer was knocking on the door, but had entered a new era defined by sky-high expectations.
It took the Sharks time to live up to them. San Jose failed to advance out of the second round of the postseason during Thornton’s first three seasons in teal, and won just one game in back-to-back Western Conference finals in 2010 and 2011.
That’s not to say Thornton was to blame. He scored at least 0.8 points per game in each of his first 11 seasons in teal, and scored no fewer than 65 points in any 82-game campaign during that time. Only seven Sharks had scored as many points in a single season before Thornton’s arrival.
The Thornton trade single-handedly raised the bar for the franchise, and fundamentally altered the lens through which the Sharks were viewed. No other moment in club history has come close.
San Jose’s first-round upset over the Detroit Red Wings in 1994 showed the team was no joke, and its first appearance in the Western Conference final a decade later demonstrated that long playoff runs were possible. But the acquisition of Thornton -- a genuine superstar and probable Hall of Famer whose best years came with the Sharks -- was something else entirely.
The Sharks have not yet won a Stanley Cup in Thornton’s tenure, and they have only reached the Final once. Each early exit brings disappointment for fans of San Jose and of the sport because of Thornton.
In their nearly three decades of existence, no other player the Sharks have traded for has left such a mark. Thornton began his career in Boston, but San Jose will be the first city that comes to mind when he eventually hangs up his skates.
The Sharks have made plenty of big trades since that day in 2005, but none have had the same franchise-altering impact. It’s hard to imagine any other will.