Toronto Maple Leafs: Top-line Joe Thornton is just crazy enough to work

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The old man and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton was drafted into the NHL on June 21, 1997.

*Spoiler alert* a lot has happened since then.

For one, the NHL has expanded from 26 teams to 31 (soon to be 32). We’ve also gotten such innovations as Twitter, the Blackberry (RIP), Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich, and three different Spiderman film franchises – four really if you count 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse.

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And do you know what else we’ve been graced with since London, Ontario’s favorite son was selected with the first overall pick by the Boston Bruins? Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ superstar forward who wasn’t technically born until September 17th of that very same year.

Sidebar: Mitch Marner, the Leafs’ other best forward, was technically alive when Thornton entered the league, as he was born 47 days earlier on May 5th.

Why, you may ask, is this particularly relevant? Well, according to The Athletics’ Maple Leafs reporter Jonas Siegel, it sounds like Matthews, Marner, and Thorton may be getting to know each other quite well as they may form Toronto’s top-line for the 2020-21 NHL season.

I know, crazy, right? Thorton signs with the team after a decade and a half in San Jose playing alongside fellow 1980s babies Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns, and he suddenly has to connect with a pair of Gen Zers? What will they even talk about? Will Matthews and Marner teach Thornton how to TikTok? Will they explain to him how Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield aren’t the same person? Oh goodness, did Kyle Dubas just turn the Maple Leafs locker room into one of those Geico commercials where people need to be taught not to use speakerphones in public?

Well, fortunately, that may not be the case, as Thornton told Pierre LeBrun via text that he’s ‘feeling 25 again‘ playing alongside a pair of actual 25 23-year-olds and has thoroughly enjoyed his experience in the Hockey Mecca thus far.

All jokes aside, Thornton’s experience is exactly why Dubas signed the 41-year-old forward in free agency in the first place. He’s the NHL’s reigning assist king with 1,089 over his 22 year NHL career, and even at his advanced (by NHL standards) age, he can still give you solid ATOI when his team is at full strength. After acquiring his long-time Sharks compatriot Marleau for a 164
game cup of coffee from 2017-19, the Maple Leafs may have finally found the veteran leader who can push them toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Toronto.

And hey, if ‘top-line Toronto Thornton’ ultimately looks more like 2018 Marleau than a former Hart Trophy winner, the team is only out $700,000 for his services – a bargain at twice the price.

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While only time will tell if Joe Thornton becomes a top-liner once more or if this is simply a training camp look we see for a handful of minutes here and there, the idea of giving Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner a veteran linemate is an intriguing one worth exploring further. I don’t know about you, but I really like the idea of the Toronto Maple Leafs adding an Uncle Ben-type to their top-line.