Joe Thornton has one regret about his time with the San Jose Sharks.
For 13 of his 15 seasons in San Jose, the Sharks made the playoffs. This yielded back-to-back Western Conference Final losses in 2010 and 2011 and 2019, and a Stanley Cup Final defeat in 2016.
“We were so close,” Thornton said this afternoon of hoisting the Cup.
But not getting the sport’s ultimate prize doesn’t erase all the good memories that Thornton accumulated in San Jose. A lot of them have flooded Thornton over the last two days, on the eve of his first visit to SAP Center since the beginning of the pandemic.
The now-Florida Panthers star went to Brent Burns’s house yesterday, hanging out with the injured Mario Ferraro, among other San Jose Sharks.
“You play somewhere for 15 years, you become a family,” he said. “It was great to see everyone.”
He didn’t say if he saw pending UFA Tomas Hertl, who could be leaving the San Jose Sharks family, by the Mar. 21 Trade Deadline.
“I haven’t talked to him about his contract at all,” Thornton said of Hertl, who was drafted by the organization in 2012. “I hope he stays with the Sharks for a long time because I know the fanbase loves him and the guys love him in the room. We’ll see what happens. But I’m always rooting for him.”
Thornton is just as excited to see the fans at SAP Center – and he’s also excited to just play again. Tonight will be Thornton’s return to action, his first game since Jan. 31. The 42-year-old has four goals and two assists in 24 games this season.
“To be back in the line-up tonight as my first game, I’m gonna be awfully excited,” he shared. “The people here were so kind to me and we shared a lot of experiences together. For years, it was such a hard building to play in. The energy that they brought to us, it was electric. It’s gonna be fun to be a part of again.”
While that’s not the exact legacy that Jumbo wanted to leave in San Jose, it’s still a pretty special one.
From Nov. 30, 2005, when GM Doug Wilson acquired Joe Thornton from Boston, to Mar. 2020, Jumbo’s last season in teal, San Jose tied with Pittsburgh for the best regular season Points % in the NHL. The Sharks sold out SAP Center regularly, including a 205-game sellout streak, and at the center of it all was 2006 Hart Trophy winner Thornton, who set franchise marks with 804 assists and trails just Patrick Marleau with 1,055 points.
“Ultimately, we didn’t get it done,” Thornton acknowledged. “But this place, coming to the Shark Tank, it was a tough place to play in and we were very proud of that.”
So hopefully, SAP Center, which has seen attendance drop 25 percent since the last pre-pandemic season, will welcome one of its old favorites with an old-school reception tonight.
No doubt, that’s what Joe Thornton deserves: “I’ve been waiting for this. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. It’s a great place. Really looking forward to it.”
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.