Maple Leafs and Thornton unite long, painful quests for Stanley Cup glory

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TORONTO – Joe Thornton was probably fast asleep beneath the Swiss Alps, resting to open his 24th professional hockey season, when the CN Tower was in teal blue.The color long associated with the heart and soul of the San Jose Sharks – all their hopes and disappointments, their fun moments and their funky beards – is reflected in its all-new NHL playground, the one that is most close to his childhood home in St. Thomas, Ontario. .

A homecoming Jumbo signaling the expectations of Jumbo. And that only required a minimum wage. One year, $ 700,000 (minus over 35 performance bonuses) and another shot at the Stanley Cup dream, Thornton has stalked for 41 years, 106 days and it is not over.

Its ardent pursuers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have been chasing the thing for 53 years, 164 days and it counts.

Their mutual but separate quest, painfully futile for so long, will unite in 2020-2021.

The active NHL leader in assists (1,089) and points (1,509) has pledged to join the active leader of the NHL in terms of heartache and hype.

If it all ends in a parade or a mess, who knows?

Either way, it’s a hell of a story. And one sang with historical symmetry.

On September 17, 1997, the same day, Thornton scored his very first point in an NHL uniform (in a Bruins preseason game), Auston Matthews was born.

Then there’s this: Thornton is the last active player to score a goal at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Heart strings = pulled.

Financially, the Thornton contract is a small swing, on par with the signings of Travis Boyd and Denis Malgin from the organization. (Fun fact: Calle Rosen can strut the Ford Performance Center this season knowing her paychecks are bigger than a future Hall of Fame’s on the first ballot.)

Emotionally, this is a big deal – and a long one in the works.

The Maple Leafs first pitched a UFA Thornton to sign alongside close friend Patrick Marleau in the summer of 2017, with Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello pushing the lead in guiding their hyper-talented young core.

Loyal Thornton got stuck around San Jose until it became apparent that the Cup wouldn’t be close at hand if he stayed put.

So, when Thornton expressed his disappointment after being left un-traded to a candidate by the 2019 deadline, pulling him out of the teal deserved another attempt.

GM Kyle Dubas called a week ago when free agency opened last Friday. Coach Sheldon Keefe too. Next, the players encouraged one of hockey’s most beloved characters and the most skillful passers-by to join in the cause. Jake Muzzin. John Tavares. Matthews. Maybe more.

Thornton thinks about it. He texted Marleau.

And when he decided to skip the Sharks, he called his longtime teammates – Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, probably more – and explained his decision. Any class.

“Someone who inspires everyone around him,” Dan Rusanowsky, the play-by-play voice of San Jose on KFOX 98.5 FM, told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday.

“He’s going to help the Maple Leafs a lot, and he’ll be his best when it matters most.

“He loves bringing everyone together,” said Marleau Good show Friday.

“He’s keeping himself in great shape, and I think one thing that’s always a constant in his game is the size and reach, the way he can protect the pucks and obviously his vision, and none of that is. has changed during his career.

What has changed with Thornton is what changes with everyone who lives this long and tries so hard.

He slowed down considerably.

Which is to be expected after 1,636 regular season games in the NHL and 179 other playoff games; 73 matches and counting in the Swiss League with HC Davos because he never takes a lockout or a pandemic on vacation; plus dozens of others representing Team Canada on the national stage.

Thornton’s 2019-20 stat line – seven goals, 31 points, under-19, 49.4 percent face-off wins in 70 games – provides ammunition for those who believe this could be the last game of Jaromir Jagr in Calgary once again (one goal, six assists, 22 games, flight to Kladno).

But Thornton’s signing to the Leafs isn’t so much about making a few more draws or popping a few more apples on the second power play unit than Alexander Kerfoot.

It’s a question of character and culture. A room that needed to be shaken up, lit up, maybe refined.

And Dubas’ aggressive approach to the Tampa Bay Lightning Plan nursery and surrounds his superstars with the right attitude on the fringes. Experienced but hungry.

Guys who know what it takes to win Playoff Rounds 1, 2 and 3 – and what it feels like to lose Round Four.

We remember Keefe revealing something very revealing about the dynamics of the Maple Leafs amid the 2019-20 roller coaster when the coach was asked about Jason Spezza, and it had nothing to do with the action on ice.

“He was a great voice in the locker room and on the bench. You know, we don’t have a lot of guys on the bench who talk too much and talk a lot, ”Keefe said. “He has an excellent relationship with the referees and linesmen. These things make the difference for a young team like ours.

Like Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Zach Bogosian before him, Thornton comes here to calm nerves, arm the weak, and read the play.

Leadership without letters.

“I like to help the younger ones. I was born to play hockey, and I’ll play as long as I can, as long as I’m healthy, ”Thornton told My Channel this week between tune-ups with HC Davos.

“I love to play hockey. I really do. I have a passion for sport. “

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