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Toronto Inks Thornton to One-Year Deal

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Friday that they have signed veteran center Joe Thornton to a one-year contract. According to the team, the contract carries an average annual value of $700,000.

The 41-year-old began his career with the Boston Bruins before being traded to San Jose. He went on to play 14-plus seasons for the Sharks. Many people, myself included, thought he would either return to San Jose for another season or retire. The question I had was whether the Sharks, who, after last year, need to reevaluate their roster, would be interested in bringing Thornton back. If they weren’t, I suspected he would hang up the skates.

Enter the Leafs, a team with a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup that would also allow Thornton to play close to his hometown of London, Ontario. If there was any situation that could make sense for him to keep playing, outside of San Jose, this is probably the one. He will be expected to bring needed intangibles and veteran leadership to a Maple Leafs’ locker room that has lost in its opening playoff series three years in a row, and gone through a coaching change during that same time period.

Thornton fills a need for Toronto, but it probably wasn’t their biggest need. However, it is hard to argue adding players who are willing to accept the NHL-minimum salary. When you are a cap-strapped team like the Leafs, there are only so many players you can bring in. I could argue that they need more help on the back end, which they do, but is there a player out there willing to play on a one-year, league minimum contract that will make that big of an impact? Probably not.

My immediate reaction, when I saw this news, was to wonder what purpose this deal serves. But once I looked into their salary cap situation, I understand it more. They needed veteran leadership, and adding a depth forward to a roster that only had 11 signed at the position (Ilya Mikheyev is a restricted free agent, and I expect him to sign, which would make 12), makes a lot of sense. Adding a player who costs more than Thornton is going to cost them would only make their roster more difficult to manage under the cap, so it’s hard to criticize the deal.

All in all, a young team looking to take the next step, in terms of postseason success, added a veteran leader, for the lowest price possible. This is a low risk move with potential to be very rewarding.

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