Fifteen years ago today the San Jose Sharks made a trade that would change the course of NHL history.
Yes, that bonkers trade between the San Jose Sharks and the Boston Bruins for forward Joe Thornton really did take place 15 years ago today, and we thought it was only right to take a trip down memory lane.
In July of 1997, a young 18-year old center was getting ready for the NHL Entry Level Draft, with the expectations across the board projecting him to go No. 1 overall.
More from Puck Prose
- Columbus Blue Jackets: 3 intriguing landing spots for Pierre-Luc Dubois
- New York Islanders: Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson need to build off big game
- San Jose Sharks: How did Erik Karlsson earn a star without a point?
- Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone is ridiculously good at hockey
- Why this hot start by the New Jersey Devils may be sustainable
Today, he is one of the most respected players in the sport, still lacing up the skates at 41 years young.
That player is none other than Joe Thornton.
When we think of Joe Thornton, we think of one of the greatest playmakers this sport has ever seen. We also think of the grizzled beard he puts on display each season, that hung underneath his cageless helmet.
We think of the San Jose Sharks, and all the good he did for that franchise.
However, the Sharks did not hold the rights to the first overall pick back in 1997, but the second overall selection, in which they took winger Patrick Marleau.
Thornton was selected first overall in that Draft by the Boston Bruins, a team looking for an offensive threat to help change the franchise’s direction. Despite fracturing his arm during the 1997 preseason, the young star to be would make the team, but it would be a rough first season. The big body rookie, who would get the nickname “Jumbo Joe” put up a mere three goals and four assists in 55 games played.
After that campaign, Thornton started to find the game he has become famous for, slowly but surely. For seven-plus years, Thornton put on the historic Boston uniform. He put up 454 points (169 G, 285 A) in 532 games, helping his team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of those seven seasons.
After Thornton and his team were upset by their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens in the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team had lost key players, and the direction of the team was unknown. Thornton was non-existent in that postseason, failing to record a point in seven contests.
Heading into Free Agency, Thornton was under a lot of scrutiny for his lackluster play and leadership. Despite all the hate coming his way, he re-signed with the club. Then came the lockout, which canceled the 2004-05 season. Thornton went overseas to play for HC Davos of the Switzerland National League. He, alongside NHLers Rick Nash and Nicklas Hagman, won the Spengler Cup. He still goes and trains with this team every summer.
Once the NHL resumed playing in 2005-06, Thornton was on a mission to prove the haters wrong. With 33 points in 23 games, he was seemingly making up for his absence from the past Playoff run.
At the time, no one knew the magnitude this trade would have on hockey history. For the Boston Bruins, while these players did not have the impact that the team expected, this trade created enough cap space to allow the team to sign Zdeno Chara in the summer of ’06. We all know how that turned out.
For San Jose, they had hoped to have acquired a franchise-altering player.
Fun fact, Brian Burke, who was the General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks at the time, said he had been heavily active in acquiring Thornton and was not thrilled to lose out to his in-state rivals.
In the 58 games he would play to end the campaign, the London Ontario native was a playmaking machine, picking up 72 assists with 20 goals. He finished with an astonishing 29 goals and 96 assists in those 58 games, good for a 125 point season, as he took home the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy.
Thornton would pick up two goals and seven assists in 11 postseason games that year, as the Sharks fell to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals four games to two.
He would continue to dominate the scoresheet in the 2006-07 season, putting up a 114 point campaign with 92 assists. Rookie Joe Pavelski, the team’s seventh-round selection in 2003, would make the club that year, and with Thornton and Marleau, this team had a core that would dominate the NHL for years to come.
As the seasons came and went, Thornton became one of the greatest playmakers in the league and, as we look back, he will go down as one of the greatest playmakers of all time. He was so good with the Sharks that many people do not even realize he was ever on another team. He became the face of the franchise and an icon. In 2010 he would be named the Captain.
Over his 15 years playing in the teal, black, and white, Thornton recorded 1055 points in 1104 games, 804 coming via assists. His team missed the Playoffs only three times over that span, making it farther than the first round in 11 of the 12 runs. While being eliminated in the Quarter Finals happened more often than not, the team made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015-16 but ultimately lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six.
In 2017, a piece of that core left as Marleau decided to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs as he wanted a chance to win a Stanley Cup before his time in the NHL came to a close. He did not have faith it would happen with the Sharks.
After falling short in the 2019 Playoffs, losing four games to two to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals, team captain Joe Pavelski decided that he was ready to leave San Jose after 13 years, joining the Dallas Stars in an effort to win.
This past season, the Sharks failed to make the postseason. However, Thornton was reunited with his long time teammate Marleau, who decided to come full circle, asking to be traded back to the Sharks while with the Penguins. Marleau signed a one-year, $700,000 deal this past October for one final hurrah.
While it would have been great to see these two both play their presumed final season together before they rode off into the sunset, the Sharks decided that bringing back Joe Thornton was not part of the gameplan financially given the flat cap. Despite wanting to re-sign, Thornton had two choices; retire or play elsewhere.
He chose to play elsewhere, signing a one-year $700,000 deal with the Leafs, in a now-or-never scenario to win a cup.
Thornton had a chance to leave the Sharks six times throughout his career, re-signing each time. Since 2017, the legend in San Jose has signed one-year deals with no-movement clauses. Even after being stripped of the captaincy in 2014, leading to harsh words for management, he stayed.
San Jose was his home, and leaving was not part of his plan.
Looking back, Thornton never brought a Stanley Cup to San Jose. However, he watched Boston win it in 2011. Even to this day, former Bruins GM O’Connell says he would make that trade again. He was happy to see his team win the cup before Thornton could, stating that he had many issues with Thornton’s leadership and ability.
In an NBC Sports article by Dalton Johnson, Thornton had this to say about San Jose:
“Oh man, I was there for 15 years,” Thornton said Sunday to reporters in a video conference call. “They brought me in with open arms. They loved me, I loved them right back. The people were so kind to me, the Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in. We’ve had a lot of great memories there.” “I loved them all, they treated me with great respect. I hope I did them proud when I played.”
When asking myself was the trade back in 2005 worth it for the Sharks, the answer is yes, to the fullest.
You have to remember in the sport of hockey, it truly is a team game, and he was the epitome of that. This is not a sport where one player can dictate the outcome. He put the San Jose Sharks on the map as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. He helped give the fans competitive hockey on the ice, while he also helped to transcend other careers, like those of Pavelski and Marleau.
Could he have accomplished what he did if he had stayed in Boston? That will be a question asked repeatedly, but with an answer never to be found.
At the end of the day when you think of Joe Thornton, you think of San Jose. That will be the case forever, once he decides to hang it up, as he will be engraved in the Hockey Hall of Fame up in Toronto for all of eternity. Not as a Bruin. But as a San Jose Shark.