On This Day In History: Joe Thornton Traded to San Jose

On this day in 2005, the Boston Bruins shocked the hockey world.

Boston traded franchise cornerstone Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart. Thornton was 26 at the time, and the trade came at a pivotal transition period where two franchises needed major shake-ups.

At the time of the trade, Boston had lost nine of their last ten games, and San Jose was 0-7-3 across the same span. With both franchises trending downwards, The Bruins organization believed it was Joe that needed to go, rather than head coach Mike Sullivan or GM Mike O’Connell.

As the saying goes “hindsight is 20/20 vision”. Looking back on this deal, it seems like it will forever be a trade that lives in Bruins infamy. Some argue that this is one of the worst trades in NHL history.

To this day, the question still remains to be asked: why did Mike O’Connell trade their franchise centerpiece? Boston had just signed the center to a three-year deal worth $20 million. There are only two explanations for this move:

  1. O’Connell felt that he needed to really shake things up to keep his job and took a massive gamble to try and propel Boston back into playoff contention
  2. ¬†Thornton was upset with the lack of commitment to keeping the core from their ’03 playoff run intact and wanted to be traded.

As we look back, the answer seems to be the first option. In an interview after getting traded, Thornton admitted he was “blindsided” by the move. “On the one hand, it’s disappointing, and on the other, it’s good to start over again. When you don’t win, there’s going to be changes… I came back here to win, and we haven’t been winning. Whose fault is that? I’m not sure, but I’m out of here, so it must be mine.”

Well, it definitely wasn’t Thornton that was the problem. Jumbo Joe went on to play 15 seasons for San Jose, the former first-overall pick tallied 251 goals and 804 assists. During the 2005-06 season when he got traded, Joe captured the Art Ross Trophy as well as the Hart Trophy.

Bruins fans will forever have to wonder “what could’ve been” if Mike O’Connell never traded the future Hall of Famer, fifteen years ago today.