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Panthers sign Joe Thornton to one-year contract

Panthers Joe Thornton

TORONTO, ON - MAY 20: Joe Thornton #97 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits on a face off against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period in Game One of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scotiabank Arena on May 20, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

In a bit of a surprising move the Florida Panthers announced on Friday morning that they have signed veteran free agent center Joe Thornton to a one-year contract.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team but it is reportedly worth $750,000 for this season.

“I see their team on paper, I watched their team last year, I love their team and that’s it,” Thornton said during his media conference. “I love what they’re building and I’m excited to be part of it. But everything is about ultimately winning the Stanley Cup and the Panthers are right there in my opinion.”

The 42-year-old Thornton is coming off of a 2020-21 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he scored five goals and 15 assists (20 total points) in 44 games.

“With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup,” general manager Bill Zito said in a statement. “His drive to succeed is unmistakable and we are thrilled that he chose to sign with our club and that he believes in what we are building here in South Florida.”

There are nine players on the current Panthers roster who were born after Thornton made his NHL debut.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

The only thing Thornton’s Hall of Fame career is lacking at this point is a Stanley Cup ring, so joining the Panthers is an interesting decision. The Panthers are a really good team and coming off of a 2020-21 season that saw them climb to the top of the league standings and finish with what was the best regular season points percentage in franchise history. They also added Sam Reinhart to the roster this offseason in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, giving them even more forward depth.

But they are also returning to a division that is going to have Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto at the top of it, which is going to be a lot more competitive than what they are coming from this past season.

They should be a playoff contender, probably even a playoff team, but whether or not they are a serious Stanley Cup contender remains to be seen.

Even though Thornton is not the MVP-level player he was at his peak, or even a few years ago, he can still chip in some offense and play a strong two-way game where he dominates possession. That is a great fit on any playoff team’s bottom-six, especially on a cheap one-year contract.