Here’s the complete transcript from Joe Thornton’s availability this morning.
Thornton, on free agency process this off-season:
There were some teams that were interested. Doug wanted me to come back to San Jose.
I started talking with Kyle and Sheldon.
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, this team is ready to win now. I’m ready to win. I’m just excited I’m coming to be a Maple Leaf.
Thornton, on other factors, including family, which led him to hometown Toronto:
It did. It did.
Obviously, my parents are right there, about an hour and 40 minutes away. That was part of it, they could be around their grandkids a lot.
But really, it’s because of the hockey team, honestly. This team is a very, very good team.
I need to win a Stanley Cup. This is a great team that can do that.
There’s a couple things that helped along the way. But I really, really liked this team. Liked, love this organization.
It was a little bit family. But mostly hockey.
Thornton, on how close he was to coming to Toronto in 2017 and what changed this time:
I gave it a long hard thought, but it just didn’t work out back then. And now, I honestly just felt it was a great move for the family. We’re over here in Switzerland until the season starts. It’s going to be an easy transition for my kids and wife. It felt like the right time to make the move. Just super, super excited, man.
Thornton, on how he sees his role in Toronto:
I just want to help out. Anyway I can. By playing over here [in Switzerland], I’m going to be in great game shape coming back home and playing for the Leafs. Really, whatever role Sheldon wants to play me, I’ll be ready for it. Just help out as much as I can off the ice, on the ice. I think I’ve got lots of hockey left in me.
Thornton, on if making move now was to possibly avoid what happened last Trade Deadline when Sharks were unable to move him:
Really had nothing to do with that, to be honest. I get over things pretty quick. It just didn’t happen, for whatever reason.
But me and Doug’s relationship has always been great. Always will be great. So it really had nothing to do with what happened last year.
Having a chance to go to Toronto, play in Toronto, have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Toronto, it’s special.
Thornton, on Jason Spezza offering No. 19 to him:
I’m a Facetime guy. I liked Facetiming guys. Apparently, he does too. So he’s my kind of guy.
He Facetimed me yesterday and said, “Hey man, do you want No. 19?” I said, “Nope.” I’m not taking anything from you. It was a real nice gesture from him. But I’m going to wear 97. I’m worn it in some international tournaments before.
We had a good laugh at it. But he’s a special guy. It was a nice [gesture]. But not going to take it from him.
Thornton, on his message for San Jose Sharks fans:
Oh, man. I was there for 15 years.
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 had a lot of great memories there.
I love them all. They treated me with great respect. I hope I did them proud when I played.
Thornton, on what he likes about this Leafs team:
I love their goalie. I really, really do. I like Freddy a lot. That was a big part of my decision here. I think he’s a great goalie.
Up the middle, they’re very, very strong.
Adding T.J. Brodie on the back-end really solidifies their D.
Zach Bogosian coming in, Wayne Simmonds.
The Auston Matthews, the Mitch Marners, the John Tavares, the Willy Nylanders…the list goes on and on, Zach Hyman. Morgan Rielly.
This is a really, really good team. I think it’s going to be a great team at the end of this.
Thornton, on talking to Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and others about leaving San Jose Sharks for a new team:
I had a lot of different conversations with a lot of different people. I wanted to talk to more than a handful of people about making a potential move. I really didn’t know until the last four or five days what I was going to do.
I talked to quite a few people. Listened to their advice. Patty, Pav, and a lot more.
They were really kind and really blunt on how their move was, the pros and cons, and great advice by the both of them.
Thornton, on what he’ll take away from his time with the San Jose Sharks:
The friendships I’ve accumulated over those years, they’ll be friendships forever. They’re long-lasting friendships.
Doug, with the staff he’s created out there, the equipment guys, the medical side, just some really strong bonds I’ve made. They truly made it a place to come to work everyday, made it enjoyable for myself.
It’s a special place to play hockey, that’s for sure.
Thornton, on if there was one conversation in particular with somebody who impacted his decision to leave:
I actually talked to Joe Montana. Joe gave me some good advice. He just talked about leaving San Francisco and going to Kansas City.
A couple people outside of hockey. I had so many people I talked to over the last week. I’m just blessed I had a chance to talk to some great people.
He’s one guy who offered me up some good advice.
Thornton, on culture change from San Jose to Toronto:
Oh, I’ll be fine with it. I don’t mind you [media] guys at all. I’ll be fine with it.
Thornton, on his junior days, if he remembers Kyle Dubas as a kid in Sault Ste. Marie:
I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t remember two weeks ago, to be honest with you. My memory is all kind of blurry.
But we go back a long way, long way..
I haven’t been up to the Sault in a few years. But it’s a special place up there.
What’s Doug Wilson Doing with Sharks Forwards?
If the San Jose Sharks are done this off-season, they’re not going to look remarkably different up front next year.
I don’t mean in terms of names and faces. San Jose legend Joe Thornton going to Toronto is change enough. Meanwhile, long-time penalty killer Melker Karlsson is also gone.
I mean in terms of proven NHL ability.
In October 2019, the San Jose Sharks had, by my count, 10 NHL-proven forwards:
- Logan Couture
- Evander Kane
- Timo Meier
- Tomas Hertl
- Kevin Labanc
- Marcus Sorensen
- Patrick Marleau
- Joe Thornton
- Melker Karlsson
- Barclay Goodrow
The 2019-20 Sharks finished last in the Western Conference.
One year later, San Jose has…wait for it…10 NHL-proven forwards:
- Logan Couture
- Evander Kane
- Timo Meier
- Tomas Hertl
- Kevin Labanc
- Marcus Sorensen
- Patrick Marleau
- Stefan Noesen
- Ryan Donato
- Matt Nieto
Of course, it’s not simply about quantity, it’s also about quality. Assuming Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl, Labanc, Sorensen, and Marleau at least hold serve — a big if considering the 41-year-old Marleau’s advanced age — we’re weighing Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow.
Safe to say, neither trio is to be mistaken for the Legion of Doom.
Donato has second-line upside but was a fourth-liner on an average Minnesota squad. On youth and upside, I’ll give him the edge over the 41-year-old Thornton, who is a question mark as a potential third-line center with the Maple Leafs.
Colorado leaned on Nieto on the PK as much as San Jose relied on Karlsson there. Nieto also adds an element of a speed and perhaps a touch more offense, so the Long Beach native should be a small upgrade.
Goodrow and Noesen isn’t really a comparison. Goodrow has proven to be an ace penalty killer and a Stanley Cup-caliber role player — Noesen, up to this point in his career, is a fourth-liner who hasn’t displayed any special teams value. While both are ultimately bottom-six forwards, Goodrow is clearly the more valuable NHL player right now.
So is Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow perhaps a wash? It’s close either way. Anyway, this isn’t point: The point is, right now, are the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks appreciably better at forward than the 2019-20 version?
I’m not convinced.
I haven’t forgotten about Joel Kellman, Noah Gregor, Dylan Gambrell, or Antti Suomela, but I don’t consider any of them NHL-proven. Gregor may also be the only forward in this group who has legitimate middle-six upside.
Fredrik Handemark, John Leonard, Lean Bergmann, Alexander True, Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski, and Jayden Halbgewachs should also be in the mix, but they’re all huge question marks at the NHL level because of their inexperience. None of these forwards are blue-chippers either.
So here’s the question that San Jose Sharks fans are rightly asking: What’s Doug Wilson doing?
The Sharks have about $3 million dollars in cap space. It’s the stingiest free agent market in recent memory, meaning bargains a-plenty.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Carl Soderberg, Erik Haula, Josh Leivo, Dominik Kahun, and Conor Sheary are among the cost-friendly middle-six UFA forwards still available.
Last summer, San Jose made the mistake of heading into the season relying on too many unproven forwards. Besides Bergmann and Gambrell, Peter DeBoer was forced to dress Danil Yurtaykin and Lukas Radil on opening night.
“Looking back,” Wilson admitted last week, “maybe I didn’t have enough depth and competition last year, early in the season.”
By March, Gambrell was the only NHL regular of the aforementioned group.
And granted, last off-season, the Sharks didn’t boast significant cap space, it wasn’t a buyer’s market, and Kane was suspended for the first three games of the season.
That’s not the case here: It’s a buyer’s market and San Jose has money to spend.
Wilson, however, countered yesterday: “Would it be nice to add some things? We probably have to re-establish certain areas of our game and earn some things to be added.”
That sounds like Wilson is planning to start the 2020-21 season with this forward group as is.
He also added, of 2019-20’s rotating cast of young forwards: “We have some guys who had a taste last year, they’re now going to be a year older. So we think they’re ready to compete.”
Wilson isn’t wrong here and should know his internal assets better than anybody else. A lot can change in a year. But he also burned credibility last season with his reliance on in-house help that didn’t help.
Okay, so we’re at least two-and-a-half months away from the start of the season. There’s still plenty of time for Wilson to add to his forward group and at a reasonable price. We should be careful about taking the GM’s public statements at face value.
But right now?
Safe to say, there are more questions than answers in this San Jose Sharks’ line-up.
Let’s Get Sad About Joe Thornton Leaving San Jose
Kyle, Erik, and JD are very sad. We talk about Joe Thornton’s signing with Toronto, where we were when we heard the news, and how we spent the weekend coping with the news. We look at his signature moments on and off the ice with the San Jose Sharks, including his famous four-goal quote (15:00), punching Petr Mrázek (21:30), and his fellowship with the boys (23:15). Check out the podcast on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Keep up with all things San Jose Sharks here:
Joe Thornton Lost the Faith — Doug Wilson Hasn’t
Doug Wilson was a little wrong.
In this morning’s press conference to discuss Joe Thornton signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he said the San Jose Sharks were second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in wins and points since Jumbo’s first game in teal on December 2, 2005.
While San Jose is indeed second in victories — they have one less than Pittsburgh’s 660 — the Sharks have the most points (1,443), regulation wins (531), and regulation-overtime wins (589) in the NHL since Thornton’s arrival to then-HP Pavilion. They’re also tied for the best power play (20.9%) and have scored the fourth-most goals in the league.
And yes, all those points and goals didn’t amount to a Stanley Cup — but it’s just one way to underscore Thornton’s impact on the San Jose Sharks franchise.
Here’s another way.
“There’s probably very few players in all sports that could alter a franchise in the way he has,” Wilson said. “Even more than the numbers, he set a culture of professionalism, an unmatched love for the game of hockey. He really helped solidify, I think, the city of San Jose as a true hockey town.”
Of course, Wilson deserves just as much credit for that, from agreeing to suit up for the expansion San Jose Sharks after a distinguished playing career in Chicago, to acquiring Thornton as Sharks general manager.
But here’s something that Wilson might be very wrong about: Is San Jose still a playoff team?
Wilson asserted last week: “Do I think this is a playoff team with this roster? Yes, I do.”
Joe Thornton had his doubts, otherwise he would’ve come back.
Wilson acknowledged as much: “[Toronto] had a better year than we did last year. That’s a fair and honest evaluation with where it sits today.
“Joe, at 41, is looking at where the runaway left is and the opportunity. I fully understand that.”
It’s not as if Wilson didn’t try to keep his franchise icon. But Wilson — understandably after years of doing so — wasn’t willing to push all his chips into the middle of table anymore with this current San Jose Sharks roster.
“Joe and I have a very open, honest relationship. I shared with him the things that we were doing,” Wilson noted, before revealing, “we weren’t going to…in this year’s draft, we ended up drafting nine forwards. We needed to rejuvenate and replenish our system. I wasn’t really in a position to move, potentially, our first-round pick next year.”
It’s fair to say the San Jose Sharks are out of the “all-in” game, and Thornton could see that. The additions of Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Donato, Matt Nieto, and Marleau didn’t move the needle enough for somebody who’s declared “I’m a Shark” on multiple occasions. Even last February, Jumbo was already pining for greener pastures.
“I need to win a Stanley Cup,” the 41-year-old acknowledged on a Zoom call this morning.
Wilson tried to accommodate Thornton’s wish during the most recent Trade Deadline: “Joe and I were working on it together, but there just wasn’t a match. There wasn’t a team that he wanted to go be a part of or a team that needed a centerman or that type of fit. We worked together on that just as I did with Patty Marleau. We just couldn’t get a match.”
So what are the San Jose Sharks, if they aren’t “all-in” anymore? They’re still trying to win, of course — but they’ll have to do it with a jumbo-sized hole in their line-up and in their hearts.
“You don’t replace the love of the game, the passion and the energy that he brings. It’s up to everybody else who saw what he did, how he lived his life, emulate that and bring it to the table so we can re-establish our game and our team,” Wilson said of Thornton. “You have to have a whole leadership group. It’s on a whole group of players. It’s not a one-person leadership mentality.”
Wilson expressed faith in a group that honestly, Thornton looks to have lost some belief in.
“We as an organization have gone through this a couple times before in the past and we’ve bounced back very quickly,” Wilson pointed out, hearkening back to a disastrous 2002-03 season that segued into the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals berth the next year and a up-and-down 2014-15 campaign that led to a 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance. The San Jose GM added: “When Patty went to Toronto [in 2017], you had players like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow, Tomas Hertl step up and evolve their game.”
So who’s going to rise to the occasion for the Sharks next year?
Wilson pointed to the team’s younger veterans: “Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, it’s their time. They need to step up to the next level.”
Besides Hertl, Meier, and Labanc, he referenced captain Logan Couture and Evander Kane: “We’ve got five top-six forwards.”
He added, talking about Joel Kellman, Fredrik Handemark, Dylan Gambrell, and other pivots who have never played regular top-nine NHL minutes: “I’ve got eight or nine centermen to vie and fight for those two spots [at third and fourth-line center].
Wilson has spoken consistently about “Our best players needing to be our best players” all off-season — and there’s no doubt that he’s addressing Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.
“I like our defense,” Wilson noted. “I want to leave a spot open for some competition for some of the younger guys.”
He’s also hoping for more out of the Gambrells, Joachim Blichfelds, and Noah Gregors on his squad: “We have some guys who had a taste last year, they’re now going to be a year older. So we think they’re ready to compete.”
The San Jose Sharks have about $3 million dollars in cap space right now. They’re missing an NHL-proven top-six forward, an entire third line, and a bottom-pairing defenseman. They still have time — will they take advantage of the stingiest free agent market in recent memory? Or will they pretty much stand pat?
Thornton, it seems, has made up of his mind on that score. Wilson, as usual, wasn’t tipping his hand to us.
“Would it be nice to add some things?” Wilson mused. “We probably have to re-establish certain areas of our game and earn some things to be added. We certainly have that flexibility to do that.”