Panthers sign veteran centre Joe Thornton to one-year, $750K deal

Joe Thornton explained what went into his decision to sign with the Florida Panthers for the upcoming NHL season.

Joe Thornton’s quest for that elusive Stanley Cup will continue in Florida.

The Panthers announced Friday that they've signed the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer to a one-year contract.

"I see their team on paper, I watched their team last year, I love their team and that's it," Thornton told reporters. "I love what they're building and I'm excited to be part of it. But everything is about ultimately winning the Stanley Cup and the Panthers are right there in my opinion."

The deal is worth $750,000, per Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

Conversations with the Panthers' braintrust — including general manager Bill Zito, head coach Joel Quenneville and his former Team Canada teammate Roberto Luongo — helped convince Thornton this was the right move.

"The energy these guys bring every day, they want to work every day, they want to get better every day," Thornton said. "I'm just really looking forward to joining them on the journey."

Thornton, who has played 23 seasons in the NHL, joined the Maple Leafs last off-season after 15 campaigns with the San Jose Sharks in pursuit of one of the few major accolades that he has failed to capture in his career — a Stanley Cup. Thornton made it to the final once with the Sharks in 2016, but they fell in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"This team is a very, very good team. I didn't win a Stanley Cup and I think this is a great team that can do that," Thornton said of the Maple Leafs at the time.

But he didn't get his storybook ending in Toronto.

Thornton put up 20 points in 44 regular-season games as the Maple Leafs finished tops in the North Division, however, Toronto ultimately flamed out in the first-round of the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

While the London, Ont., native's foot speed has declined over the years, his puck possession and playmaking skills remain.

Thornton — who was the second-oldest skater in the NHL last season behind Zdeno Chara — has taken his time the past few off-seasons to decide the future of his playing career. After the Maple Leafs' upset at the hands of the Canadiens, he said he had yet to make up his mind.

"We'll see," Thornton said at the time.

But another shot at a Cup — this time with the Panthers, who made a big off-season splash in acquiring Sam Reinhart — clearly convinced him to suit up for a 24th season.

"With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup," Zito said in a press release.

"His drive to succeed is unmistakable and we are thrilled that he chose to sign with our club and that he believes in what we are building here in South Florida."

The first-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft has collected 1,529 points over 1,680 games with the Maple Leafs, Sharks and Boston Bruins. Thornton leads all active players in points and is 14th on the all-time list, two back of Paul Coffey and four behind Mark Recchi.

The six-foot-four, 220-pound pivot is a six-time all-star and captured the Art Ross and Hart Trophy in 2006, when he tallied a career-best 125 points, including a Salary Cap era high of 96 assists.

With files from The Associated Press

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