With Brendan Shanahan looking to reshape the Toronto Maple Leafs in his image, this summer will likely be a busy one for Leafs Nation.
Recent rumors have suggested that Joe Thornton is a top target for the new man in charge of leading the Maple Leafs to glory. Unfortunately, acquiring a player who will be 35 years old by the time the puck drops on the 2014-15 season is the last thing the Maple Leafs should be focused on.
Unless Toronto is able to acquire Thornton for peanuts, exchanging any assets for two or three years of a player who’s not getting any faster and will only begin to see his skills decrease would be a major mistake by the team. Thornton played at a high level this past season, but if he were to be traded, he’d be better suited for a club closer to contending for a championship than the Maple Leafs currently are.
There’s no doubt Thornton would make the Maple Leafs a better team next season, just like Joe Nieuwendyk and Brian Leetch helped make Toronto a better team in their brief stints with the club. However, the Maple Leafs must avoid the temptation of selling future assets for another player entering the wrong side of 30. It didn’t work more than a decade ago, and it wouldn’t work in this case either.
The temptation of watching a fantastic playmaker like Thornton setting up Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk on a nightly basis would make any Leafs fan excited, but it’d be a band-aid fix to a major hole in the lineup. After two or three years of Thornton, the Maple Leafs will still need a top-line center; there’s also no guarantee the team gets the same Thornton that people saw last year. That’s not to say Thornton will quickly turn into the second coming of Jason Allison in a Leafs uniform, but there’s also no guarantee that he wouldn’t either. He’s never been considered the strongest skater and as old age sets in, the odds are against him that he’ll continue to play at the level fans are used to.
If this was a 27-year-old Thornton, then the Maple Leafs would be crazy not to do everything in their power to try and acquire him. Unfortunately, this is a 35-year-old Thornton, which is why Toronto would be wise to put their focus elsewhere and pass on the opportunity to acquire a player who’s proven he prefers to play in pressure-free markets.