SAN JOSE -- Even before the Sharks’ 2019 playoff run got underway, the “Win For Jumbo” mantra and the idea of getting into the Cup Final at cap off Joe Thornton’s Hall of Fame career picked up a ton of steam.
But Thornton is a team guy. So it wasn’t too surprising when No. 19 told the media on Thursday morning that he didn’t buy too heavily into that line of thinking.
“I think that was more for you guys,” he laughed. “I think this whole area needs a Cup.”
Not that anyone in the greater Silicon Valley would dispute that. But the desire of the Sharks’ fan base to see No. 19 win a Cup Final ramped up as the 39-year-old forward skated in what many think could be his final season.
As Thornton stood clad in a hoodie as he addressed the press one last time this season, his future continues to remain uncertain. Although he made it clear he hasn’t ruled out a return next season.
“I’ve got to talk to Pete and Doug and Hasso – but we’ll see,” he said. “I haven’t made any decision. I feel like I can still play, that’s for sure, but I haven’t made any decision at all yet.”
One of those decisions, of course, revolves around his health. For the first time in a few years, Thornton is entering the offseason without a serious injury that needs rehab. Nevertheless, how he feels with the general bumps and bruises that come with a long playoff run will also play into his decision.
“It weighs on you man, it does,” he said of coming back from injuries. “It’s a grind that rehab process. Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be. For me personally, don’t have that issue. We’ll see.”
Thornton’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of impressing. After missing time at the start of the season due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee, he evolved into Team Teal’s third-line center and began climbing up the NHL’s all-time points list. For him to get so close to going to another Stanley Cup Final and coming up two wins short was hard for even his teammates to watch.
Tomas Hertl, who was watching San Jose’s Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues from afar due to a head injury, called seeing Thornton’s disappointed face on the television screen on of the toughest parts of the playoff exit.
“On the TV, when I saw Jumbo, that was the hardest moment,” Hertl said sadly. “We lost and we see Jumbo, how he wants it and how he played in the playoffs, how he was hunting the Cup. To see him lose two games before the Final was really hard.”
Now the questions as to whether Thornton will return carry even more weight as the Sharks offseason – and likely an eventful offseason at that – gets underway. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has many questions to answer before next season, but he made it clear he would love to have Thornton in the mix.
“I have such tremendous respect for him, not just as a hockey player but as a man,” Wilson said. “He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him. But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him. Whatever decision he makes, we’re there for him.”
[RELATED: End-of-season observations on Sharks]
“I’d love to see him again,” Hertl said, “and try to help him because he’s a great teammate and he’s a great locker room player. I started with him and he showed me the way.”
There is one thing Thornton made clear. If he does in fact return for another season, he won’t be playing for any other team.
“I’m a Shark,” he said. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”