Joe Thornton returns as Sharks continue to look for difference makers

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While the San Jose Sharks missed out on signing John Tavares, they will be bringing back Joe Thornton for another year after “Jumbo” inked a one-year, $5 million contract on Monday.

“Joe has become one of the faces of this franchise since his arrival in 2005 and we feel it’s only fitting that he will be wearing teal going forward,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “He is a generational playmaker and his accomplishments place him amongst the elite players to ever play the game. He has helped lead this team to new levels and continues to be one of the top two-way centers in the League. Nobody loves the game of hockey more than Joe Thornton and his leadership on and off the ice have been instrumental in this franchise’s success. We’re excited that he has continued his commitment to this organization and the fans in San Jose.”

The 39-year-old Thornton last played on Jan. 23 after suffering a fully torn ACL and MCL in his right knee during a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He underwent surgery on the same ligaments in his left knee seven months before that injury.

Meeting with reporters after the Sharks’ season ended in May, Thornton reiterated that he wanted to return for a 14th season in San Jose. He also added that he was willing to be flexible in negotiations with Wilson and leave some money on the table if it meant bringing in a player like Tavares.

“There’s enough money around for everybody … I want this team, ultimately, to win the Stanley Cup,” he said via the Mercury News. “This city deserves it and these guys deserve it. So, whatever we decide, it’s going to be in the back of my head, just making this team better.”

With Thornton taken care of, the Sharks are a little more than $13 million under the salary cap ceiling, per Cap Friendly. Only restricted free agents Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are left for Wilson to re-sign.

Given the championship window they’re in, you have to expect some aggressiveness from Wilson this summer now that the Tavares option is gone. Logan Couture and Evander Kane have been re-signed but the likes of Paul Stastny, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Carlson and James van Riemsdyk are now unavailable. With the free agent market thinning out, he’ll have to look the trade route in order to find some upgrades, which means Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner and maybe Artemi Panarin become pursuable targets.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.