Boston Bruins: Still Feeling Effects From Joe Thornton Trade


For many Bruins fans, the trade is a distant memory.  For younger fans of the Black and Gold, they might not even recall him playing here, and then for the older, more mature Bruins faithful, Joe Thornton and the thought of what could have been still resonates. At 36 years of age, he is still going strong, as he and his beard are once again knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup Final.

Taken first overall in the 1997 draft, Thornton arrived in Boston with the hopes of getting the Bruins back on the right track. In the 1996-97 season, they lost almost twice as many games as they had won, but they also did not qualify for the playoffs, something they had done for nearly three decades. Head coach Steve Kasper was shown the door, and Pat Burns was brought in.

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Jumbo Joe was brought along slowly by Burns that year, playing in 54 games, scoring three goals with four assists. The following year, Thornton had a breakout year that has continued until this day. Playing in 81 games, he had 16 goals and 25 assists. That was followed by two more years of improving stats, which included 37 goals in 2000-01, which was his career high.

The future seemed very bright for Thornton, who had settled in quite nicely into Boston. He was the new face of the franchise, and a happy go lucky young man with an ever present smile on his face off the ice.  On the ice, the production continued at a consistent pace. From 2001-04, he had more than a point a game.

After the lockout erased the 2004-05 season (which Thornton spent in Switzerland, averaging more than a point per game for HC-Davos) he started off strong for the Bruins in the fall of 2005, with 33 points in his first 23 games.  Then came the night of November 30th.

Thornton,  26-years-old at the time, had just signed a three-year, $20 million contract in August with the Bruins, where he was the club’s captain for the last three seasons. He received a call from General Manager Mike O’Connell stating he had been traded to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman Brad Stuart, and forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. Just like that, Jumbo Joe was gone and Bruins fans wondered what had just happened.

As far as the return, Sturm went on to have a respectable career with the Bruins. In the four-and-a-half years he spent in Boston, the German born winger posted four 20-goal seasons and racked up 193 points in 302 games. His most memorable goal was the overtime winner in Boston’s first Winter Classic at Fenway Park on January 1, 2010. Stuart and Primeau combined to play 204 games in Boston from 2005-2007, with the Stuart adding more offense than Primeau.

All Thornton did upon leaving was score 92 points in 58 games for the Sharks, en route to winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies.  For the Bruins, they had another early spring, as they did not make the playoffs that year, or the following year as well.

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It’s easy to see Thornton still putting up big numbers even today at the age of 36, and just figure the Bruins took the trade on the chin.  Joe played in all 82 games this year, and had 82 points. Through the first 13 playoff games this year, he has 11 points. It’s been nine years since one of the three players the Bruins acquired last played for them, and Stuart is the only one still playing.

Judging the trade only on statistics, San Jose is the clear cut winner, but there is much more to consider than just the 208 goals and 679 assists Thornton has amassed in the 835 games played in teal. What if Thornton was never dealt? What would have happened to the Bruins? Would Jumbo Joe had hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011?

For starters, the trade gave the Bruins tremendous salary cap flexibility, and that allowed them to go after, and sign Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. Chara was indeed the one who hoisted the Cup for Boston, while Thornton stills searches for his first Cup win.

In 2007, the new general manager of the Bruins,  Peter Chiarelli, managed to acquire Chuck Kobasew and  Andrew Ference from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Sturm and Primeau. Fast forward to 2009, when Chiarelli dealt off Kobasew to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom and their second-round pick in 2011, which turned out to be perennial  prospect Alexander Khoklachev.

In the spring of 2010, Chiarelli traded Weller to Florida along with Byron Bitz and Tampa Bay’s 2nd round choice (previously acquired, Florida selected Alexander Petrovich) in 2010 Entry Draft for Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski.

Weller and Fallstrom never played an NHL game in their careers. Bitz played in just 17 games after being dealt by the Bruins. Conversely,  Ference, Seidenberg and Bartkowski all got to taste from the Stanley Cup in 2011, and they were also around during Boston’s second run at the Cup in 2013, even though they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

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While an argument can be made for who won and who lost this trade, there has been a Stanley Cup in Boston since that deal was made, and in San Jose, they still await their Cup. San Jose Is currently making a run at the playoffs, however, and this could finally be their year.