Last offseason, Tuukka Rask let it slip during the annual NESN/WEEI Jimmy Fund radio-telethon, but then again, it didn’t seem to be a much of a secret: The 2015-16 season would be Shawn Thornton’s last in the NHL.
The news didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as Thornton was entering the final year of his contract with the Panthers and, given that the league was moving away from his style of player, the likelihood that a team would pay him for his age 39 season seemed slim.
Calling himself a “realist,” Thornton had told his friends that his career was in its final months. In fact, the former Bruin had booked a retirement golf trip consisting of nine days in Ireland and a week in Scotland for this summer.
Then again, Thornton was playing for the Panthers. As Jaromir Jagr can attest, they like old guys down there. In February, the Panthers offered him a deal for the 2016-17 season.
“When they offered another year, I sprained my finger signing the thing before they changed their minds,” Thornton said Monday at his Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament.
Thornton still made the Ireland trip (“It probably took years off my life,” he quipped) but canceled the Scotland portion. After all, he’s now got to prepare for the last season of his career, and this time it figures to actually stick.
It’s the aftermath of that season where things get interesting. After years of putting in his time on Comcast SportsNet New England and working as a guest analyst for NBC Sports during the 2015 playoffs, Thornton had intended to work in the media after his playing days ended. However, a good relationship with Panthers management has inspired him to reverse course, and instead he expects to take a job with the Panthers on the business side upon retiring from playing.
“As we know, things change year-to-year — this would have been a different conversation last year — but as of right now I think I’m probably leaning more towards the business side of hockey,” he said. “Once the season’s over, I’ll probably move into that role in Florida.”
Added Thornton: “Media, I did a lot and that’s exactly where I thought I was going to end up going, but if the opportunity is still there to get into learning something new in the business side of sports, I just see a ton of upside to that for longer in life.”
Thornton, who has a home in Charlestown, had said after the team opted not to sign him in 2014 that he would remain a resident of Charlestown regardless of where he played. Now, he admitted, an office job in Florida would force him to “re-evaluate things.”
The real shame of it is that it doesn’t seem he’ll pursue his acting career.