Joe Thornton talks free agency, Marleau’s Cup dreams with Leafs

Joe Thornton scored his 2nd goal of the season to put the Sharks on the board. With the goal, he ties Jari Kurri for 20th in all-time NHL scoring.

After more than a decade of pulling on a San Jose Sharks jersey, veteran pivot Joe Thornton was given the chance to choose his own destiny last summer. And it seems the former Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner nearly chose the door.

Thornton, an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-17 campaign, saw a number of suitors line up to try and draw him out of California before he eventually settled on a one-year, $8-million deal with the Sharks.

How close did Thornton come to winding up on another squad in 2017-18? Asked by ESPN’s Josh Cooper if there was a point during free agency when he felt he might be leaving the Sharks, Thornton said the thought did cross his mind.

“Yeah, I guess because I really didn’t know what was going on,” Thornton told Cooper in an article published Wednesday. “Obviously, I love San Jose and I feel like I’m a Shark, but you have all these other teams phoning and, ‘What if?’ and things [go through your head] like that. But I’m super happy to be back with the Sharks.”

Marleau departed the only NHL club he’s ever known and headed for Toronto. Needless to say, the loss of the five-time 30-goal-scorer wasn’t easy for Thornton to stomach.

“Obviously, I loved playing with Patty and it was just like, ‘Wow, Patty Marleau is going to be putting on a blue and white jersey and this is going to be strange and he’s not going to be there at training camp,’” Thornton said. “It was different, but as you know and everybody knows throughout the sport, it’s business.”

Thornton said he understands why his former running mate made the decision to head north despite the Sharks earning a shot at the Stanley Cup just two seasons ago.

“I’ve never questioned it. He wanted a change in scenery and I think going to Toronto is going to be a great thing for him,” Thornton said. “I think he loves it up there and loves playing under [coach Mike Babcock], and they have a great team up there. I think he’s a perfect fit.

“I know he took this very seriously. If he left San Jose, he wanted to have a great shot to win the Stanley Cup. He wants to win one and I want to win one and we’ll see what happens.”