In spite of the fact that he is without a doubt in the very late stages of his career in the National Hockey League, there has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding the signing of veteran centerman Joe Thornton by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thornton is without a doubt an iconic player in the NHL but is also a beloved figure in Canada for his accomplishments internationally representing his home country, including most notably winning a Gold Medal on home soil at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010.
For those reasons alone it's easy to see why a Canadian team like the Maple Leafs would be interested in bringing him into the fold, especially on a cheap deal like the one he signed last week, but there were some questions about why Thornton himself would choose to come back to Toronto. Well the veteran forward spoke to the media on Sunday and for the very first time explained some of the thought process that went into the decision. Based on his comments I believe there were 3 key factors that played a role in him coming to Toronto, and here they are in no particular order.
#1 Joe Montana.
I'll start with what is no doubt the most unexpected entry on this list and that is the influence of legendary National Football League quarterback Joe Montana. During his media availability today, Thornton revealed that he had actually contacted the legendary QB to consult with him on the possibility of leaving his long time team the San Jose Sharks. Montana of course had a legendary career with the San Francisco 49ers, but played out the final season of his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs, so I can see why Thornton sought his advice given that this is something of a similar situation. In the end Thornton says the conversation with Montana helped him with his decision.
Thornton is of course a local boy and the move to Toronto will bring him back closer to his family, a big deal for a man that has young children. Thornton told the media that family played a role and specifically cited that the ability to bring his children closer to their grandparents was a selling point for him in the decision to come to Toronto.
#3 The Stanley Cup.
Although I didn't list these in order I definitely get the sense that the biggest motivator for Joe Thornton here is the chance to win a championship with the Leafs. Thornton heaped praise on the Leafs roster from players like goaltender Frederik Andersen to forward William Nylander and repeated on several occasions that he felt the Leafs were a team ready to contend for the Cup. He also pointed to the Leafs offseason moves, the addition of experienced veterans like Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian, as another reason he believes in this team.
"I need to win a Stanley Cup, and I think this is a great team that can do that," said Thornton.