Joe Thornton leaves Sharks, signs with Leafs in free agency


Joe Thornton has been incredibly loyal to the San Jose Sharks and gave them everything he could for the last 14-plus years. But he's about to embark on a new challenge.

The future Hall of Fame center has signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team announced Friday. Thornton signed for $700,000 -- the league minimum.

The Leafs are right up against the salary cap and only have about $500,000 in cap space after this signing, per CapFriendly, so it was very helpful for Toronto that Thornton agreed to join at a cheap price.

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Thornton is not the elite forward he's been for much of his career, but he should still be an effective player for the Leafs. The 41-year-old center tallied 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 70 games for the Sharks last season. He bolsters Toronto's scoring depth in the bottom six and could feature on the second power play unit, too.

Going to the Leafs also is a homecoming for Thornton, who was born in nearby London, Ontario. Not only will Thornton be playing closer to home, he'll also be chasing the first Stanley Cup title of his career.

A championship is the only notable achievement missing from Thornton's career, which began in 1997 when the Boston Bruins made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. He made a few deep playoff runs with the Sharks, including one Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 (a loss in six games), but a title has so far eluded him.

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Toronto is one of the most talented teams in the league, but it faces a tough road to the Cup Final. The Atlantic Division is loaded with quality teams, including the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners in the Bruins and the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

We don't yet know the official start date for the 2020-21 season, but we do know that Thornton will be back in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the Bruins traded him to the Sharks in 2005.