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NHL rumors: Maple Leafs interested in Sharks' Joe Thornton

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Could Joe Thornton be on his way out of San Jose? (USATSI)
Could Joe Thornton be on his way out of San Jose? (USATSI)

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It's not even truly the offseason yet, but rumors are flying around about various players already and it's all starting to intensify. A lot of the rumors surround what is going to be happening with the San Jose Sharks. With general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan remaining in their jobs, a roster shakeup appears imminent.

That could leave stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, each of whom signed extensions last season, in limbo. They are going to be highly-valuable trade chips for the club, should it choose to really restructrue. Both, however, have no-movement clauses in their new contracts, so they would have to sign off on any deals.

So how would Thornton feel about moving to his home province of Ontario and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs? According to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, the Leafs are one of six temas interested in Jumbo Joe currently. Thornton has a lot of power with that no-move clause making the circle of teams he'd likely accept a trade to rather small, probably.

For the Maple Leafs, Thronton would be the No. 1 center they lack currently. Even though Tyler Bozak carries that designation currently, could you imagine one of the greatest playmakers of all time setting up Phil Kessel, one of the league's hottest goal scorers of the last five years?

Thornton is 35 years old and would likely come at an extreme cost to any team hoping to acquire him, so the market could be limited, but it could be an aggressive quest to acquire a big difference maker of his ilk.

The former No. 1 overall pick had 76 points last season, including 65 assists. There's plenty left in the tank, as well as a three-year deal starting next season at a cap hit of $6.75 million per season.

Thornton has been labeled as a playoff choker due to the lack of success the Sharks have had in the postseason. That's always felt a bit unfair considering he has 100 points in 132 playoff games, but that stigma apparently is there. That really shouldn't scare teams away though. There's too many positives in Thornton's game to let that be a detractor, if it's even a real thing. Marian Hossa was a playoff choker until he wasn't, and a number of other players can say the same.

The big question for any team, including Toronto, is what will it take to pry him away from San Jose? The Maple Leafs have some younger players that could be attractive to the Sharks including center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner. Their names seem to pop up most when Leafs are mentioned in trade rumors and reports.

Any team that goes after Thornton will have to be careful, as giving up on some promising prospects could be a dangerous practice, especially considering Thornton is unlikely to be a long-term solution for any team as he continues to age. But for teams in contention for the Stanley Cup, grabbing one of the most productive players of his era who still can light up scoreboards, is a rather enticing option.

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