Joe Thornton signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.
The 41-year-old center scored 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 70 games with the San Jose Sharks last season, his 15th with them.
Thornton on Thursday announced he was joining HC Davos of the Swiss National League, where he will play and prepare for the 2020-21 NHL season, which is targeted to begin on Jan. 1, 2021.
“I’ve been watching this, all the buzz, the questions about what’s going to happen to me,” Thornton told Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss German-language newspaper. “The desire to continue playing (in the NHL) is there. I will be able to prepare myself well for it here in Switzerland.”
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Acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins on Nov. 30, 2005, Thornton is the Sharks leader in assists (804), is second in games (1,104) and points (1,055), and is fourth in goals (251).
Thornton as recently as Thursday said a return to the Sharks was possible.
“I guess it’s fair to say that I’m still kind of numb about it,” San Jose captain Logan Couture told The Athletic. “At the same time, it’s his choice, and everyone in this organization respects him for everything that he’s done for all of us players. … He’s meant so much for my career.”
On Tuesday, forward Patrick Marleau signed a one-year contract to return to the Sharks and said he was hopeful Thornton would re-sign so they could be teammates again.
Marleau played the two seasons prior to last season for the Maple Leafs and told Sportsnet 590 The Fan that he and Thornton discussed signing with Toronto together at that time.
“He does put in the work, he does keep himself in great shape, and I think one thing that’s always a constant in his game is the size and reach (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), the way he can protect pucks and obviously his vision, and none of that has changed over his career,” Marleau told the “Good Show” on Friday. “He still knows where guys are on the ice. He knows where guys are going and that allows him to still be one of the better players on the ice.”
Selected by Boston with the No. 1 pick of the 1997 NHL Draft, Thornton has scored 1,509 points (420 goals, 1,089 assists) in 1,636 games over 22 seasons with the Sharks and Bruins. He has scored 133 points (31 goals, 102 assists) in 179 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Thornton is the NHL active leader in points and assists, and is seventh in assists, ninth in games and 14th in points in NHL history.
An 11-time 20-goal scorer, Thornton won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL most valuable player in 2005-06, when he led the NHL with 125 points (29 goals, 96 assists) with the Sharks and Bruins.
“Going to miss the big guy …,” San Jose defenseman Brent Burns told The Athletic. “Learned a lot from him, and just going to miss his presence. He’s one of a kind, and not anyone else like him. … Tough to see him go, but happy for him going back home near his family (Thornton is from London, Ontario). I know how much they will all love that.”