Joe Thornton

Burke, O'Connell feud over Thornton trade
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Brian Burke, Mike O’Connell feud over claims about Joe Thornton trade talks

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Hockey fans have fond memories of Brian Burke’s feud with Kevin Lowe, and now it seems we have a sequel. Burke and former Bruins GM Mike O’Connell are in a war of words over alleged Joe Thornton trade talks. The biggest winners? Us.

Consider it a very short three act play or … boxing match, maybe more appropriately?

Round 1: Burke recalls trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks, “babysitting” O’Connell

Burke provided refreshingly candid answers to fan questions during an April 2 Twitter Q&A. The thread is worth your time, as Burke discusses the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Phil Kessel, Roberto Luongo, and Gary Bettman.

But it was a two-part bit about Burke trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks that got the ball rolling.

Burke explained that he’s “still bitter” that the Ducks didn’t land Thornton, and believes he offered O’Connell a better deal than the Bruins ultimately received from the Sharks.

Most fascinatingly, Burke even gave specifics about what he was willing to offer. Now, one can speculate about who would have been in the Ducks top five in 2005. Would Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry possibly been available for Thornton?

But either way … wow.

As a reminder, the Bruins ended up receiving Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart for Thornton. As Bruins fans would like to forget, Thornton continued to be a star for the Sharks, including winning the 2005-06 Hart Trophy.

[PHT Time Machine: The Eric Lindros trade that didn’t happen.]

Round 2: O’Connell says Burke’s Thornton claims were a “fabrication”

Things got juicier between O’Connell and Burke on Tuesday.

O’Connell told The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that Burke’s hypothetical offer didn’t happen, and that the details were a “fabrication.”

“The details surrounding this story are fabricated and I can confirm that no such offer was made to me as I never informed Anaheim of my intentions to trade Joe Thornton,” O’Connell said. “Unfortunately, certain personalities never let the truth get in the way of their ultimate goal, self-promotion.”

Whew! (Shakes hand to indicate serious heat emanating from this rivalry.)

Round 3: Feud sizzles to a new level as Burke counters

Not to be outdone, Burke responded to O’Connell’s claims in a fiery appearance on ESPN on Ice with Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. Burke made a key point by noting that current Ducks GM Bob Murray was in Burke’s office when he made the offer(s).

Burke also revived memories of wanting to battle Kevin Lowe in a fabled barn over the Dustin Penner offer sheet, saying “I wish we were in the same room, if you’re calling me a liar.” You really need to hear the entire clip, which Wyshynski posted:

*Ponders putting on oven mitts, this is all too hot to handle*

So obviously, this is a he-said, Burkie-said situation. We can only take each hockey executive’s word for it, and one could even argue that Murray might feel loyal to Burke.

But, considering the specifics of Burke’s claims, it seems feasible that the Ducks made some sort of offer for Thornton.

Theories

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It’s also crucial to realize how much a person’s memory can be altered by time. This happened in 2005, and sometimes the seeds of trades are planted far before a deal is consummated. It’s possible that O’Connell flat-out doesn’t remember Burke’s offer(s).

Not only has time passed, but O’Connell also took a ton of heat for the trade. McDonald notes this anonymous reaction from a Bruins player at the time of the trade:

“Are you kidding me? We traded Joe Thornton for three guys who can’t tie their skates.”

The Bruins fired O’Connell in March of 2006, and the Thornton trade undoubtedly served as a catalyst. Such events can leave you a bit scarred, and maybe even prompt you to forget certain details. Maybe phrasing like “babysitting” bothered O’Connell, even if I took it to mean that Burke was checking up on the situation quite often.

Or maybe O’Connell is right in claiming that Burke is making those Thornton trade claims with the “ultimate goal” of “self-promotion?”

One thing’s clear: this is fun

We can only really guess, and perhaps spend this coronavirus quarantine time imagining “What if?” scenarios. Could Thornton have pushed the Ducks into mini-dynasty status, as this was during their Chris Pronger – Scott Niedermayer era? Would the Bruins have landed blue chips rather than “guys who can’t tie their skates?”

(That’s totally unfair to Primeau, Sturm, and Stuart, as they all had lengthy NHL careers. Though I admit I have not received definitive proof of how adept they are with laces.)

The one thing we do know is that Thornton landed with the Sharks and had a great run. And that O’Connell (currently director of pro development for the Los Angeles Kings) and Burke (Sportsnet personality) probably aren’t best buds.

Hey, it’s a lot more fun than talking about escrow though, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Joe Thornton’s Stanley Cup dreams dashed for another season

Joe Thornton
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Just before Monday’s NHL trade deadline the San Jose Sharks were able to find a match to help one of their franchise legends continue his quest for a Stanley Cup when they sent Patrick Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conditional third-round draft pick.

They were not able to find a similar match for their other legend, Joe Thornton.

That development, and the realization that his Stanley Cup dreams will again be put on hold, was at least a little disappointing for the future Hall of Famer.

“Yeah, obviously I was willing to go somewhere, and try to win my first Stanley Cup,” Thornton said, via the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. “I’ve been dreaming about that ever since I can remember and it just didn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason.”

“I wanted a shot, believe it or not,” added Thornton. “I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years. I wanted another shot at it. I wanted to get something in return (for the Sharks), but it just didn’t work out. Back to the grind. That’s how it is.”

The biggest problem in finding him that shot seemed to be a lack of interest from the top Stanley Cup contenders.

In the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline it was speculated that Boston (Thornton’s original team) and Tampa Bay had kicked the tires on a possible trade, while Dallas emerged as a potential landing spot on Monday. Nothing ever came of it, with Pierre LeBrun reporting on Tuesday that a formal trade offer was never made by the Stars.

LeBrun also reported that of the handful of teams that did show interest in Thornton, none of them matched with what Thornton considered to be teams that would have given him the best chance to get him a championship.

So for now, he remains in San Jose to wrap up what has been a brutally disappointing season for the Sharks.

This was supposed to be an all-in kind of year for the Sharks, one that would get them — and the two greatest players to ever wear the team’s jersey — their first ever Stanley Cup. They were in the Western Conference Final a year ago, and even though they lost Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi from last year’s team, they still had what seemed to be a great core in place.

But injuries have added up, some players have regressed or declined, and the status quo situation in net with one of the league’s worst goaltending duos all combined to produce one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

It has also left Thornton still in pursuit of the one hockey prize he has yet to claim.

Thornton may not be the MVP caliber player he was during his peak (or as recently as the 2015-16 season), but he still has value as a player. His playmaking and passing ability is still there, and he still has a positive impact in his ability to drive possession and play defensively. He could still be a great third-or fourth-line center on a contender.

Now it is a matter of how many more chances he will get at it, and where he will get those remaining chances.

It is worth noting that he is once again an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he was willing to leave San Jose as a trade deadline rental this season to get his shot at a cup it at least stands to reason that he might pursue his options in free agency this summer. That does not seem to be his preference, but the possibility can not entirely be ignored. Especially if there is reason to believe the Sharks may not bounce back next season. But for as bad as this season has been, there is reason to believe that could happen.

As Thornton pointed out on Tuesday, the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs (2014-15 season) they came back the next year and won the Western Conference before losing the Stanley Cup Final in six games to the Penguins. It is not a stretch to believe that with better health, a little better luck, and finally doing something to address the goaltending situation could again make the Sharks a contender as soon as next season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Bruins shouldn’t bring back Thornton; Who will be next to 700 goals?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Will another player hit the 700-goal mark in the future? (The Hockey News)

Alex Ovechkin has a good chance of passing Wayne Gretzky’s goal record. (NHL)

Tyson Barrie would be missed if the Leafs decided to trade him today. (TSN)

• Take an inside look at how Team USA beat the Soviet Union in 1980. (ESPN)

• The Boston Bruins shouldn’t bring back Joe Thornton today. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• What is it like to lose a teammate on trade deadline day? (NBC Sports Washington)

• Should the Flyers trade Shayne Gostisbehere? (Inquirer)

• Here’s a deeper look at the struggles the Bolts are experiencing on the power play. (Raw Charge)

• The Leafs may have been better off with Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello after all. (Toronto Star)

• What will the Rangers do on trade deadline day? (Blue Line Station)

• It sounds like the Avs will trade Tyson Jost before the deadline. (Mile High Hockey)

• There’s uneasiness in Minnesota now that the trade deadline is here. (Star Tribune)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marchand baffles Habs, sets up Bruins goal with absurd move

Marchand move assist to Pastrnak Bruins Habs
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David Pastrnak moved into the goals lead by reaching 41 on Wednesday, with time for more. It will take something special for someone to top the move and assist from Brad Marchand for highlight of the night.

Marchand displayed much of what makes him such a superstar to put Boston up 1-0.

To start, he spotlighted his smarts by jumping on a puck for a turnover. Marchand then made an absurd move to get around Montreal’s defense, particularly (but really not just) Jeff Petry. Marchand proceeded to somehow find Pastrnak with a beautiful pass for one of the most primary primary assists you’ll see.

Watch that spectacle in the video above, because it needs to be seen.

Pastrnak then took over the show from there.

That second tally pushes Pastrnak to 40 on the season. With that, Pastrnak became the first Bruin to hit 40 goals since Glen Murray in 2002-03. Murray reached 44 that year, with Joe Thornton playing the role of a slightly taller Marchand in that case.

Pastrnak then completed a hat trick during the second period. With 41 goals (and counting?) Pastrnak now leads the Maurice Richard Trophy race.

There’s still time for Marchand and Pastrnak to make more magic. Watch the game on NBCSN and/or stream it live here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.