Joe Thornton, after 22 seasons, has never won a Stanley Cup. If you are younger than 53 years, neither have the Toronto Maple Leafs. So why the hell not have the one sign with the other?
The venerable center seemed destined to close his remaining career with a very also-rannish San Jose Sharks, after years of making the playoffs but making only one Final, in 2016, only to lose that to a younger, faster, healthier and Crosbier Pittsburgh Penguins. He seemed doomed never to have his name on the Stanley Cup.
And now . . . he seems slightly more doomed.
Not because the Leafs aren’t as good as the Sharks. Heaven forfend. The Leafs are indeed better, and by a fair amount. But they are not so much better that this version of Thornton puts them over any version of the top. In fact, they already have a past-his-prime legend chasing a Cup as a third-line center, and it’s not even clear Thornton is an upgrade there.
Thornton was too much in the spotlight for his comfort in Boston, so when he was traded to San Jose, he went to a place where glare was never an issue, and he mega-thrived. He is plainly the best San Jose player ever, and the franchise is nearly 30 years old now, so this is no longer a 3S (small sample size) analysis point. He is also perhaps its most beloved. He is Ernie Banks, only his most famous quote was not “Let’s play two,” but, “I’d have my cock out if I scored four goals. “
San Jose in its current form is in retreat because of thin drafts combined with trades for veterans to keep the contention window open, and Thornton had frankly given all there was for him to give. His departure, which runs weirdly adjacent to the Sharks’ re-re-signing of Patrick Marleau, is a fairly loud suggestion that he has finally wearied, maybe two years past this idea’s sell-by date, of waiting for the Sharks to mount another a Cup run.
But the Leafs? The NHL’s version of the Cleveland Indians (72 years since their last title), Sacramento Kings (69 years), and Detroit Lions (63 years) have combined years without parades (53) with unquantifiable levels of bitter fan invective. Their team name, like the other aforementioneds, should be “Same Old.” And Thornton is fighting all his personal history to join the team with equally frustrating personal history.
If life were fair (and we’ll wait for you to stop laughing here before we continue), this would all magically work out for Thornton because being the best guy never to win the big one always comes out of one’s piehole as an insult, as though the player was the reason for the team failures nailgunned to his or her head. And a Toronto Cup celebration would make the Raptors’ parade look like a small get-together among close friends. But that’s almost certainly not how the ending plays out, because whatever levels of desperation, frustration, and historic failure the 41-year-old Thornton is on, the Leafs are an order of magnitude worse. This feels like crossing the streams at a galactic karmic level.
On the other hand, what the hell. He may have one four-goal game in him.