Joe Thornton addressed the media on Sunday to discuss joining the Toronto Maple Leafs at age 41 to pursue a Stanley Cup.
What was the process like in free agency for you once you hit the open market?
Thornton: There were some teams that were interested. Doug [Wilson] wanted me to come back to San Jose. I started talking with Kyle and Sheldon. It was probably the hardest hockey decision I’ve ever had to make, but I truly believe Toronto — with the roster they have and the guys they have picked up this offseason — is a team that is ready to win now. I am ready to win. I am just excited that I am coming to be a Maple Leaf.
You mentioned you like the team. Can you talk about some of the other factors as well? How much did things like the fact that you are a Southern Ontario kid and that your family still lives in the St. Thomas area play a factor in your decision?
Thornton: It did. Obviously, my parents are right there — about an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes away. That was part of it. They can be around their grandkids a lot. Really, it’s because of the hockey team, obviously. This team is a very, very good team and I need to win a Stanley Cup, man. This is a great team that can do that.
There are a couple of things that helped along the way, but I really, really liked this team. I love the organization. It was a little bit of family, but mostly hockey.
How close were you in 2017 to joining the Leafs? How tough of a decision was that? Why was this time different?
Thornton: I was. I gave it a long, hard thought. It just didn’t work out back then. Now, I honestly felt like it was a great move for the family. We are over here in Switzerland until the season starts. It is going to be an easy transition for my kids and my wife. Honestly, it felt like the right time to make the move. Just super, super excited, man.
How do you see your role on a team that has already added Simmonds, Spezza, and other guys like that? How do you see yourself fitting in?
Thornton: I just want to help out any way I can, to be honest with you. By playing over here, I am going to be in great game shape coming back home and playing for the Leafs. Really, whatever role Sheldon wants to play me in, I will be ready for it.
Help out as much as I can off the ice, on the ice. I think I have lots of hockey left in me. A little bit of everything, I think.
What did it mean to you that Jason Spezza offered up #19? What excites you about joining forces with him?
Thornton: I am a FaceTime guy. I like FaceTime’ing guys. Apparently, he does, too. He is my kind of guy. He FaceTime’d me yesterday and said, “Hey, do you want #19?” I said, “Nope, I am not taking anything from you.” It was a real nice gesture from him, but I am going to wear #97. I have worn it in some international tournaments before.
We had a good laugh at it. He is a special guy. It was nice, but I am not going to take it from him.
What do you see in this Leafs team that leads you to believe they can win the Cup considering they have had a hard time going deep into the playoffs the last several years? What do you like about the roster as it stands?
Thornton: I love their goalie. I really, really do. I like Freddy a lot. I think that was a big part of my decision here. I think he is a great goalie. Up the middle, they are very, very strong. Adding TJ Brodie on the backend really solidifies their D. Zach Bogosian coming in, Wayne Simmonds. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares — the list goes on and on. Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly. This is a really, really good team. I think it is going to be a great team at the end of this.
It is going to be night and day playing in Toronto compared to San Jose, where you probably had a degree of anonymity. How ready do you feel for that change in culture?
Thornton: I will be fine with it. I don’t mind you guys at all. I’ll be fine with it.
You were in the Soo in junior. You are older than Kyle Dubas by about seven years. Do you remember crossing paths with him? Did you guys talk about that? Do you remember that? He would’ve been 10 or 11 at the time.
Thornton: [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t remember two weeks ago, to be honest with you. My memory is all kind of blurry. We go back a long, long way. I haven’t been back to the Soo in quite a few years, but it is a special place up there.
You were pretty upset at the trade deadline last year when you didn’t move. How much did not wanting to go through that again play into it — maybe not taking the chance that the Sharks aren’t going to be able to trade you again?
Thornton: Really, nothing had to do with that, to be honest with you. I get over things pretty quickly. It just didn’t happen for whatever reason. Doug and I’s relationship has always been great. It always will be great. It really had nothing to do with what happened last year. Having a chance to go to Toronto and play in Toronto, and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Toronto, is special.
You leave San Jose such a beloved player. What is your message to the fans of San Jose?
Thornton: Oh, man. I was there for 15 years. They brought me in with open arms. They loved me. I loved them right back. The people were so kind to me. The Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in. We have had a lot of great memories there. I love them all. They treated me with great respect, and I hope I did them proud when I played.
Did you talk to Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski at all? Did you get in touch with each other just about making this transition and leaving the Sharks to go to new teams?
Thornton: To be honest with you, I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people. I wanted to talk to more than a handful of people about making a potential move. I really didn’t know, until the last four or five days, what I was going to do. I talked to quite a few people. I listened to their advice — Patty, Pavs, and a lot more.
They were really kind and really blunt about how their move was, the pros and cons. It was great advice from both of them.
Is there one conversation that had a real impact on you, especially?
Thornton: I actually talked to Joe Montana. Joe gave me some good advice. He just talked about leaving San Francisco and going to Kansas City. That conversation, and a couple with people outside of hockey — I had so many people I talked to over the last week. I am just blessed that I had a chance to talk to some great people. [Joe] is one guy who offered me up some good advice.
Can you just tell us what you will take most from your memories in San Jose? Over 15 years, what will you take most out of there?
Thornton: The friendships I accumulated over those years will be friendships forever. They are long-lasting friendships. Doug, with his staff, he is great out there — the equipment guys, the medical side. Some really, really strong bonds I have made. They truly made it a place to come and work every day and made it enjoyable for myself. It is a special place to play hockey, that is for sure.