Joe Thornton never wronged the Boston Bruins or their fans. He was a good soldier here and a model citizen off the ice. But after being cleanly beaten by John Madden on an overtime draw in a November game, he was inexplicably and impulsively traded to San Jose for a return that made the Tyler Seguin deal look a bargain.
Mike O’Connell sent the strapping franchise pivot West for a defenseman who didn’t want to be here and was never going to re-sign here (sick intel, OC), a journeyman fourth-liner, and an affable German top-six winger whose career was derailed by major knee injuries (and whose beaming grin almost made the deal worth it). It was, and remains, one of the most stunning trades in Boston sports history both for its abruptness and the fact that Thornton didn’t do anything to facilitate it (like raise hell all over town and bang everything but the light sockets). Oh, and the swindling. Can’t forget the swindling.
He did everything right here before he was dumped just 23 games into the season after the lockout that saw hockey canceled the previous season (dumped, by the way, after not even being shopped around the league). In the 2+ seasons before the trade, Thornton played in 177 games, tallying 68 goals and 139 assists for 207 points. 1.16 points per game, finally arriving as the projected star he was, and poof! He’s gone.
Thornton’s been gone for over a decade and, in the process, has become one of the most respected and admired (literal) graybeard vets in the NHL. He’s also a slam-dunk Hall of Famer as he’s been the game’s premiere dish man for a goddamn decade-and-a-half and the best since the velvety feeds of Adam Oates (though if he wasn’t maimed, Marc Savard vs. Joe would’ve been a hell of a debate). His 964 regular season assists put him fourteenth in NHL history. Out of the many thousands of players who have toiled in a near-century old NHL, Joe Thornton is 28th in points, ahead of such luminaries as Jean Beliveau, Sergei Federov, and Bobby Hull. And the Boston Bruins traded him for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau, and Marco Sturm. Don’t hold that against Joe.
Joe’s now the old guy you root for to get a Cup not just because he’s a great player but because he’s a great, likable guy, too. Like Ray Bourque. And Teemu Selanne. And Lanny McDonald. So don’t make him some bitter thing from the past that you cling to. That’s for others to do.
P.S. As bad as the lopsided stinker was, the trade did eventually get somewhat palatable though it took awhile. The trade not only sent Thornton to Cali, it sent his $20M contract there as well. The summer after the trade, the Bs threw mad loot at Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard because they were able to, due to not having to pay Joe anymore. Primeau and Stuart were turned into Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew (who was turned into Alex Khokhlachev). Ference and Chara played prominent roles on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team. So Mike O’Connell basically pulled a Homer.