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Thornton on Panthers: 'I love what they're building'

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

Joe Thornton Availability 8/13/21

Joe Thornton Availability 8/13/21

Joe Thornton meets with the media to discuss his decision to sign with the Florida Panthers and his excitement about the upcoming season

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Joe Thornton doesn't have much left to prove in the NHL.

Already the league's active scoring leader with 1,529 points - which is also good enough for 14th place on the all-time list - the 42-year-old veteran has also won the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and been named to six All-Star Games while dishing the biscuit at a high level for more than two decades.

But in joining the Panthers on a one-year contract on Friday, the grizzled warrior believes he's put himself into a good position to chase down the ultimate prize that still eludes him - a Stanley Cup.

"[It means] everything," Thornton said. "It's purely hockey. I see their team on paper. I watched their team last year. I love their team. That's it. I love what they're building, and I'm excited to be a part of it. Everything is ultimately about winning the Stanley Cup. The Panthers are right there in my opinion."

While it's impossible to predict just exactly how the chips will fall during any given season, Thornton's commitment to the Panthers at this stage of his career should at least be viewed as a strong vote of confidence in overall the direction the franchise is heading in following a resurgent 2020-21 campaign.

In addition to posting the fourth-best record in the league during the regular season, the Panthers also turned heads during their epic postseason clash with the cross-state rival Lightning. For even though they fell to the eventual back-to-back champions, Thornton, like so many others, was left impressed.

"It was a great series," Thornton said. "I loved [watching the Panthers]. It left a big impression on me. I talked to [Panthers general manager] Bill [Zito]. I talked to Lou [Panthers special advisor to the general manager Roberto Luongo]. I talked to [Panthers head coach] Joel Quenneville. They were just so excited about their team, what they're building down there, and just thought I'd be a great fit with this group."

While it remains to be seen where exactly he'll be lining up come puck drop in October, there's no question that Thornton still has plenty left in the tank. After spending the majority of his career with the Bruins (1997-98 to 2005-06) and Sharks (2005-06 to 2019-20), he posted 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 44 games with the Maple Leafs this past season, while also recording one goal in seven playoff games.

Showing off his versatility by moving up and down Toronto's lineup, his possession numbers were also nothing to sneeze at. Starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone, he posted a team-leading 55.50 CF% at 5-on-5, with the Maple Leafs owning a 25-18 advantage in goals when he was deployed.

Video: Panthers Sign Joe Thornton

"With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup," Zito said of Thornton. "His drive to succeed is unmistakable and we are thrilled that he chose to sign with our club and that he believes in what we are building here in South Florida."

No stranger to playing past Game 82, Thornton has also tallied 134 points in 186 career playoff games.

"I love the game," Thornton said of his longevity. "I love the people that are part of the game. Everything about it is just great. I love going to the rink every day. I love still putting in the work every day. Hockey is just a huge part of my life. I'm just thankful that I can continue to play. I truly, truly love the sport."

When asked how he thinks his unmatched experience could benefit players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and the rest of the ready-to-pounce core within Florida's locker room, Thornton said his stall will always be open for anyone that wants to stop by for a quick chat.

Even though he's already compiled a Hall of Fame-worthy resume as the centerpiece of other teams, he's ready to support a new generation of stars in order to help get the Panthers to the promised land.

"If they have a question, I just want to be a voice for them to rebound things off of," Thornton smiled through his iconic beard. "Just be one of the boys, really. Get in there, work hard with the guys every day, smile, laugh, but work - work, work, work. Just be a presence. I'm thrilled to be coming there."

As for his immediate future, Thornton is already hard at work overseas.

After meeting his wife, Tabea, while playing in Switzerland during the lockout in 2004-05, the London, Ontario native has returned there to train every summer since. Living there right now with his family, he plans to stick around a bit longer before heading to South Florida to get situated before training camp.

"I've been training there for a while now," Thornton said of his work with Davos HC in Switzerland. "We've been going two-a-days. The mind feels good. The body feels good. I knew pretty much shortly after [this past] season [I'd play]. I started training right away and I felt good. Yeah, here we go again."


Like so many of his new teammates, he can't wait to get started.

"They're close, they really are," Thornton said of Panthers. "It doesn't matter what happened in years past. This is a new team. They had a great season last year. Obviously, they fell to the champions. For me, just put the work in every day and hopefully at the end of the year you'll see some rewards."

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