Could things possibly come full circle for Jumbo Joe Thornton and the Boston Bruins?
It might seem far-fetched and almost impossible on first blush. But, it would also make sense on a number of different levels as the Bruins look to fortify their offensive attack while getting bigger, stronger and heavier for the postseason.
The 40-year-old "Jumbo Joe" is clearly near the end of the line in his NHL career. He's playing for a Sharks team currently going nowhere, and he currently has just two goals and 19 points with a minus-13 rating in 50 games.
Just as it was tough to gauge a veteran like Ilya Kovalchuk playing with a terrible LA Kings team, it's difficult to gauge just how much the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has left while playing for a Sharks team that's pretty much been DOA this season.
As the NHL readies for a post-All-Star break start this week, things will naturally begin to turn toward also-rans turning into sellers at the trade deadline. And Jumbo Joe would be a naturally attractive trade asset given his experience, his talent and what he might be able to give for a two-month burst in the playoffs.
As such, Jumbo Joe was asked about potentially getting traded over the next month, and he didn't offer a flat denial to the Sharks media serving up the pointed question.
"I need to think about that," said Thornton per Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. "Obviously this homestand is going to be important for our team. But I haven't thought about it at all. I'm just trying to win games here and see how it goes. I'm still optimistic we can take a run at it. I really am. We'll have to see how these next couple of weeks play out and go from there."
In the past, Thornton has issued flat denials that he would be going anywhere other than San Jose, so it would seem the possibility of Jumbo Joe playing elsewhere for one last kick at the Cup exists.
Just last season, Thornton was still good enough for 16 goals and 51 points for a Sharks team that was playoff-material and was still playing his puck possession game with playmaking verve and physical strength.
He could potentially team with young wingers like Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork to make an intriguing third line where his passing and playmaking would augment the two young guys. And, it would free up Charlie Coyle to fill up the other position of need as a top-6 winger for the Bruins.
It would make the Bruins demonstrably bigger up front headed into potential playoff match-ups with bigger defensemen corps like Tampa Bay and Washington, and that's something that needs to happen for the Black and Gold.
Jumbo Joe also wouldn't be a high-cost item given that he's well into the back nine of his career, and would allow the Bruins to make another move, if they wanted, to bolster their forward group.
Most interesting of all, it would return one of Patrice Bergeron's oldest NHL teammates back to the city that drafted him first overall in 1997, and then infamously traded him to San Jose during a disastrous 2005-06 season for the Bruins.
These days, Jumbo Joe has played twice as many games for the Sharks (1084 games) as he did for the Bruins (532). And the Harry Sinden/Mike O'Connell tandem that shipped him out of Boston is long gone.
Thornton joining forces with an experienced, winning Bruins crew that went to the Cup Final last season could be pretty interesting. It might give Thornton the kind of opportunity to win that never happened when he was wearing the "C" for the Sharks.
It would also be an amazing story if Thornton came back to Boston and finally won it with the Bruins after being gone for the last 15 years. But unfortunately, feel-good stories don't win hockey games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Another thing it wouldn't do, unfortunately, is bring in a player that is going to fill it up from a goal-scoring perspective. And that is something the Bruins could use with whatever improvements they make at the trade deadline.
The Bruins have a lot of pass-first guys already in a lineup that can get altogether too passive when they are going through one of their rough patches. And for all his good points that's not an area where Jumbo is going to help all that much.
The bottom line with Jumbo Joe: His presence would help the Bruins in some areas and certainly could add a different dimension to their third line where Coyle is limited offensively. But there will be better, younger fits for the Black and Gold than Thornton available to them at the trade deadline.