With the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings in the midst of a tug-of-war for the Stanley Cup, 28 other teams are shifting their focus to the NHL Draft later this month and the free-agent frenzy come July.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have become quite notorious for staking claims to move up in the draft, sign the biggest free agent or make a franchise-altering trade. It’s become more like the boy who cried wolf, but another rumour surfaced out of Toronto today that the Buds are one of six teams interested in acquiring San Jose Sharks’ captain Joe Thornton, according to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. You can this latest rumour to the ever-growing list Leafs’ fans have been getting giddy about lately. Earlier in the week, reports came out that GM Dave Nonis is shopping everyone except four untouchables: Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Bernier. Just because it’s the Leafs, let’s toss another rumour in there. Maybe a Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf and their eighth-overall pick to Florida for Ed Jovanovski and the first-overall pick trade possibility could get fans licking their lips.
It’s obvious that the last two seasons ended up in total disasters and now with Brendan Shanahan wearing the sheriff’s badge, the need to improve the mediocrity that looms over this franchise makes these possible moves more than just folklore.
Thornton has been a model of consistency since he was traded to San Jose back in the 2005-06 season and would be the type of playmaking, superstar centerman the team has been looking for since Mats Sundin left.
If the Buds were able to pull this off, it would be safe to assume the 2006- Art Ross Trophy winner would become their second-line center because there’s no way you break the chemistry that Kessel and Bozak have developed during their time together. Throw in James van Riemsdyk and you have a first line that proved to be one of the best in the league last season. With Thornton centering the second line with Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson on his wings, Leafs fans could soon forget that the team has Clarkson’s $5.25-million is on the books until 2020-21. If Jonathan Cheechoo managed to score 56 goals, maybe the London, Ont. native really can turn water into wine and give the Leafs’ a legitimate scoring threat on their second line.
Pulling a trade of this nature must urge Leafs fans to the side of caution because this has happened once or twice before: Owen Nolan, Brian Leetch, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis and Phil Housely. What do all these players have in common? They were past their prime when they finally donned the blue and white in exchange for draft picks and young players with potential. At 34-years old, Thornton would provide the experience to a young club looking to take the next level, but for a price of a Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri or OHL Player of the Year Connor Brown, thanks but no thanks.
The Leafs are finally starting to build a foundation of good, young talent that has been almost a decade in the making and there’s no need to screw that up just to win a round or two in the playoffs. Joe Thornton wouldn’t instantly make the Leafs a Cup contender, he’s a piece that makes more sense to add at the Trade Deadline if the Leafs are in a spot to make a serious run and that seems like still a few years away.