MIDDLETON — Everyone knows Shawn Thornton wanted to remain a Bruin. Now that he’s had a couple months to accept that he won’t be, the veteran fighter is embracing his status as a Florida Panther.
“It’s exciting. It is,” Thornton said Monday at his annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament. “I’m probably past the point of being down a little bit about not coming back. I can’t wait to get down there and get settled and start the next chapter.”
Thornton said it’s been a busy summer of going back and forth between his home in Charlestown and Florida, where he’s been house-hunting and slowly getting settled in. His show of support Monday from current Bruins Tuukka Rask, Loui Eriksson, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille shows that he certainly hasn’t been forgotten up here, and that he’ll keep his Boston friendships as he becomes a divisional opponent.
“Tuukka didn’t buy me out of my half of [our] boat, so I think we’re still friends,” Thornton joked.
Thornton made the playoffs in each of his seven seasons with the Bruins. That’s hardly a guarantee for him with the Panthers, who have reached the playoffs just once over the last 13 seasons (2011-12).
Amongst other moves this summer, general manager Dale Tallon (who knew Thornton from their Chicago days) brought in Thornton on a two-year, $2.4 million contract, which is the richest of the 37-year-old fighter’s career. The Panthers also shored up their goaltending last season by trading for Roberto Luongo. On the first day of free agency, Tallon brought in a group of veteran forwards that included Thornton, Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen.
How those signings help a young Panthers team remains to be seen, but Thornton hopes that between the veterans brought in and the young group already there (Erik Gudbranson, Aleksander Barkov and 2014 first overall pick Aaron Ekblad among them) the team will be able to get back to the postseason.
“I know they’re expecting big things from talking to them,” Thornton said of his new team. “Hopefully we deliver. I’d like to make the playoffs. Obviously I’m not a big fan of losing. I think they brought in some really good character guys. I think with their youth, they’re going in the right direction and I think they’re definitely improving. I’m hoping I can be a part of that.”
As for mentoring that young group of players in Florida, Thornton noted that Father Time has made that role pretty apparent.
“I’m going into my 17th or 18th year [Editor's note: 18th],” Thornton said with a smirk. “I don’t think anyone really needs to tell me to be an older guy in the room. I am whether I want to be or not.”
Thornton’s first game back in Boston will be on Nov. 4. Interestingly enough, it will be Thornton’s first time playing in Boston as an opponent despite having parts of four NHL seasons under his belt out west before coming to the Bruins.
“It will be weird,” he admitted. “I never played a game in the Garden until I had the Bruins jersey, so every game I’ve played in there [I've had] the spoked B, so it will be different. It will be weird. Maybe I’ll pull a groin or something.”