Three-year extension keeps Thornton in San Jose through 2011
The Sharks signed Thornton to a three-year contract extension worth $21.6 million on Sunday, keeping the 2006 MVP in San Jose through 2011.
Thornton is the NHL's leading scorer over the last two seasons with the Sharks, who acquired him from Boston on Nov. 30, 2005. He won the 2006 scoring title with 125 points and finished second last season with 114, dominating the Western Conference with his peerless playmaking skills.
He still has one season at $6.67 million left on the extension he signed with the Bruins after the NHL lockout. But when he sat down with his agent-brother, John, to decide his long-term future, Thornton only saw himself on the California coast.
"There's no question I was going to re-sign there," Thornton said from his summer home in St. Thomas, Ontario. "It's just a perfect fit for me. The ownership wants a winner, and we've got a great young team there. I'm looking forward to being there for a long time."
General manager Doug Wilson said Thornton didn't squeeze every last penny out of the Sharks because he wanted the club to have enough financial flexibility to keep its roster together. Wilson is pursuing a contract extension for captain Patrick Marleau, Thornton's friend and road roommate, and hoping to re-sign defenseman Scott Hannan.
There's no question I was going to re-sign there. It's just a perfect fit for me. The ownership wants a winner, and we've got a great young team there. I'm looking forward to being there for a long time.
"I think we're all really ecstatic that it went so easy," said Thornton, whose 28th birthday is Monday. "I love playing there. I love the people in the organization. ... As far as I'm concerned, that's the place I want to play."
The four-time All-Star had 22 goals and 92 assists last season, trailing only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in the NHL scoring race. Thornton became the third player in league history with back-to-back 90-assist seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
Thornton led San Jose into the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, where the Sharks lost to the Red Wings in six games. But Thornton erased any lingering reputation as a postseason underachiever, scoring 11 points in 11 games despite constant pressure from the top defensemen on Nashville and Detroit.
Keeping Thornton in San Jose with a long-term deal stretching through the prime of his career was a top priority for Wilson, who promised to fine-tune his roster after the NHL's fifth-best regular-season team flopped with three straight losses in the playoffs. Thornton's quick deal made everything easier, the GM said.
"We have pretty open communication, and Joe stepped up," Wilson said. "I certainly think he gave us a break to be able to do this in the [contract] term on the condition of being able to keep a group of the other players. ... These players are all just evolving into their primes. They've had some successes, and they've had continuity, and they want to keep it together."
Wilson signed defenseman Craig Rivet to a four-year, $14 million deal last month, keeping the veteran he acquired from Montreal near last season's trade deadline. Like Thornton, Rivet prefers the laid-back lifestyle for players in Northern California over the pressure from media and fans in traditional hockey markets.
Thornton was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1997 in Boston, where he became a captain but also received the bulk of public blame for the Bruins' failures.
The trade to San Jose caught Thornton by surprise because he had signed a three-year extension in Boston a few months earlier. Mike O'Connell, who became the first NHL general manager ever to trade a player during his MVP season, was fired less than four months later.
"I've always signed three-year contracts, and I just think with the one year remaining [on the Boston deal], it's a perfect fit until I'm 32, and then I think I'll probably sign with the Sharks again," Thornton said.
Thornton doesn't shoulder all the responsibility for victory in San Jose, which is a relief to the 6-foot-4 forward. Marleau caught the bulk of criticism in May when he went scoreless in the Sharks' six-game loss to Detroit, but Thornton believes San Jose's 1-2 punch at center will be formidable for many years to come.
"We all want to stay together," Thornton said. "We feel that we're getting into our primes of our careers, me and Patty especially. We really think this is going to be the pinnacle of our careers coming in the next four or five years. He wants to play with me, and I want to play with him. Hopefully something gets done."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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