- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
While considering a move to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, center Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks sought as much advice as possible.
He spoke with family and friends. He spoke with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, former San Jose teammates who left the team via free agency. But Thornton said the most memorable guidance he received was from another Bay Area sports legend.
“I actually talked to Joe Montana. I think Joe gave me some good advice. He just talked about leaving San Francisco and going to Kansas City,” said Thornton, who signed a one-year deal with the Leafs on Friday.
In 1993, Montana requested a trade from the 49ers, who shipped the 37-year-old quarterback to Kansas City, where he finished his career with the Chiefs.
“I had so many people I talked to over the last week. I’m just blessed I had a chance to talk to some great people. He was one guy who offered me some good advice,” Thornton said.
Thornton, 41, is skating with HC Davos in the Swiss National League in preparation of the 2020-21 NHL season. His contract with the Leafs is for $700,000.
The decision to join Toronto ended Thornton’s 15-season run with the Sharks. In 1,636 games with the Sharks and the Boston Bruins, he amassed 1,509 points — most among active players. He’s 14th all time in career points and seventh in career assists (1,089). He won the NHL scoring title and MVP honors in 2005-06.
“The emotions I feel are appreciation and reflection. It’s hard to put into words what Joe meant for this franchise over 15 seasons,” San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “I think there are very few players in pro sports that can alter a franchise the way he did.”
Thornton praised the organization and the fans in San Jose.
“They loved me and I loved them right back,” he said. “The Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in, and we had a lot of memories there.”
But after he and Wilson were unable to find a landing spot for Thornton on a contender last trade deadline, the veteran center found one through free agency.
“It was probably the hardest hockey decision I ever had to make. But with the roster [the Maple Leafs] have, the guys that they picked up this offseason, they’re ready to win now and I’m ready to win,” Thornton said.
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