The end of the Florida Panthers’ season will lead to many questions about their off-season. One of those questions is if Joe Thornton will be back with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, sign elsewhere, or end his 24-season NHL career?
Two days after the Panthers were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 42-year-old Thornton said he’s not thought about what comes next for him.
“My wife was kind of asking me last night,” Thornton said Wednesday. “And really, I have no plans. It’s kind of exciting that way. I came here to win a championship and we fell short of that. But I think the Florida Panthers are going to be good for a long time. It’s exciting around here now.”
Thornton played 34 games during the regular season after a signing a one-year deal with Florida last summer. He appeared in only one playoff game — Game 4. vs. Tampa Bay — and had just 6:18 of ice time. While he watched from the press box during majority of their two playoff series, he did his best to keep spirits high, even as the season slipped away against the Lightning.
“I was just trying to keep the boys positive as much as I could,” he said. “As an older guy, you realize that it’s all hands on deck this time of year. I was just trying to keep the team positive and that’s all you could do.”
Thornton’s experience will have a lasting impact on some of his young Panthers teammates. A veteran of 1,714 regular-season games and 187 playoff games, the 2005-06 winner of the Hart and Art Ross Trophies has had his share of postseason disappointments. He knows how hard it is to win the NHL, but also how much potential is within that roster.
“This team competes hard,” Thornton said. “Right from training camp, the way these guys put the work in every day, the practices are very high-tempo, during the regular season these guys played hard each and every night and it’s a long year. It’s a grind. … I think the guys competed hard all year long and hopefully there are some lessons to be learned there.”
Thornton said he’s not putting a timeline on making decision about what he’ll do next.
“I’ve been privileged to play this game for a long time, so I don’t take anything for granted,” he said, “but I never think ‘what ifs’ to be honest, I just try to live in the moment and go from there.”