When his career ends Joe Thornton is going to be remembered as one of the greatest players of his era.
He is the type of player that will probably be appreciated more after his retirement than he ever was during his playing days. When we look back at his career we are going to see huge point totals, an MVP award, a scoring title, a two-way force of a player, and one of the best playmakers to ever do it in the NHL.
He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.
The only thing his career is missing at this point is a championship.
Over the past 15 seasons he got close with the San Jose Sharks — losing in the Western Conference Final four times and the Stanley Cup Final one time — but was never on a team that was able to get over the hump.
That chase for a championship is now taking him to the Toronto Maple Leafs after he signed a one-year contract with the team this past week.
His reason for leaving the Sharks and joining Toronto? It’s simple.
“I need to win a Stanley Cup,” Thornton said during a video call on Sunday morning, via TSN. “And I think this is a great team that can do that.”
Thornton called it the “hardest hockey decision” he has ever had to make, but that he believes with the Maple Leafs’ roster and their other offseason additions the team is ready to win this season. He also added that he considered joining the Maple Leafs three years ago in free agency but that it simply did not work out.
His close family ties to the area also helped him make the choice now.
“My parents are right there, about an hour and 40 minutes away,” Thornton said (again via TSN). “So that was part of it, that they can be around their grandkids a lot. But really it’s because of the hockey team; honestly it’s that this team is a very, very good team. There’s a couple of [other] things that helped along the way but I really liked this team, love the organization.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his decision was that he also sought out the advice of other players that have left their long-time teams, including Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana who famously left the San Francisco 49ers for the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1990s.
But let’s get to the real point of all of this…
The chase for a championship.
Thornton saying “he needs to win a Stanley Cup” and choosing the Maple Leafs is certainly going to produce some low-hanging fruit for everyone outside of Toronto given the postseason history of the franchise.
At the moment this team is synonymous with postseason failure and disappointment. The Maple Leafs have the NHL’s longest Stanley Cup drought and have not even appeared in a Stanley Cup Final since the Original Six era. For all of their talent now, this current core has also failed to advance beyond the First Round of the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. The organization has not won a playoff round (with any roster) in 15 years.
They are sticking with that same core (which is still the right decision) and have instead made some tweaks around the edges this offseason. Along with the Thornton they also acquired defenseman T.J. Brodie and forward Wayne Simmonds this offseason.
They are hoping those changes can be enough to end a 53-year championship drought.
For Thornton, he is just hoping it can be enough to complete his Hall of Fame puzzle.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.