NHL Legend Joe Thornton, Florida Panthers Agree to 1-Year Contract

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2021

Toronto Maple Leafs center Joe Thornton (97) during an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Toronto, Canada. (AP Photo/Peter Power)
Peter Power/Associated Press

The Florida Panthers announced Friday they have signed six-time All-Star and likely future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton to a one-year contract. 

Chris Johnston @reporterchris

Joe Thornton's one-year deal with #FlaPanthers is for the league minimum: $750,000.

Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop

Thornton said he was really impressed with how the #FlaPanthers looked against the #TBLightning in the playoffs. "It left a big impression on me." https://t.co/7jPPqlgVDQ

In 1,680 career regular-season games, the 42-year-old has recorded 425 goals and 1,104 assists for 1,529 points. He also won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top points scorer in 2005-06.

While Thornton is no longer an elite player, his leadership and experience make him a valuable piece.

Panthers general manager Bill Zito explained the rationale behind signing him: "With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup. 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."

Thornton ended a 15-year run with the San Jose Sharks when he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of the 2020-21 season. A native of London, Ontario, he said going to Toronto brought him closer to home but that the move was reflective of what the Leafs were building.

"It was probably the hardest hockey decision I've ever had to make, but I truly believe Toronto, with the roster they have with the guys they picked up this offseason, I think this team is ready to win now," he said in October. "I'm ready to win. I'm just excited. I'm coming to be a Maple Leaf."

luke fox @lukefoxjukebox

Joe Thornton took Jason Spezza and Alexander Kerfoot aside to spend time working on their own drills as an individual line. Kerfoot says he's never experienced that before.

The franchise played up to Thornton's expectations during the regular season by finishing first in the North Division with 77 points. But the Leafs threw away a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Thornton had a limited role, which was to be expected given his age. He had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in the regular season and added one more goal in the postseason. He provided depth and used his experience to help teammates in ways that don't show up on a stat sheet.

After the Maple Leafs' playoff exit, Thornton was noncommittal about playing in 2021-22.

"This came so sudden—I really haven't had time to think about it," he told reporters. "First and foremost, I have to be a dad for a little bit here. But I feel really, really healthy. I feel really, really good. But we'll see. I haven't made any decision yet."

Thornton's decision to sign with Toronto made his priorities clear. In the event he decided to return for 2021-22, he was only going to join a team with Stanley Cup ambitions.

The Panthers have never won the Stanley Cup, but they boast a stacked roster and have reached the playoffs in each of the past two years. They even finished ahead of the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings last season.

Florida is poised to take the next step, and having a player like Thornton should help come playoff time.