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Should Flames Bring Thornton in on PTO?

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It wouldn’t be far off the historic Calgary Flames script.

And considering all the changes that have taken place this offseason, bringing in a living hockey legend like Joe Thornton for a training camp tryout might be the perfect addition for a smooth locker-room transition.

After a remarkable couple of months recovering from the rejection of superstars Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving is still looking at tinkering.

Evan Rodrigues is a free agent of interest, as previously reported.

If he chooses the NHL trade route, the Flames could deal from a position of strength to add another forward. He has double-digit defencemen one-way deals.

But bringing in Thornton to see what’s left in the 43-year-old’s tank would be a risk-free opportunity for the Flames. Worst-case scenario, the Calgary Flames give the veteran journeyman a chance to audition for the entire NHL during the preseason. In the meantime, they get his energy and experience in a locker-room that has several new, high-profile players that will have to come together quickly with the existing core to defend the Pacific Division title.

The question is whether Thornton is interested in joining someone on a PTO.

PTO may be Thornton’s only NHL option

After 25 seasons in the NHL, he could opt to retire. He could also potentially play overseas, or take on another position in hockey, with offers already coming in.

“I really have no idea,” Thornton told colleagues at Florida Hockey Now after the Panthers were bounced from the second round of the NHL playoffs.

“I haven’t decided if I’m going to play or not. We’ll have to talk and see how everyone’s feeling about it. We’ll see.

“I’ve been privileged to play this game for a long time, so I don’t take anything for granted. I never think about ‘what ifs,’ I just try to live in the moment.”

If he chooses to play, a PTO might be his only option. With just five goals and 10 points in 34 regular-season appearances with the Panthers last season, the off-ice benefit was more obvious than the on-ice contributions for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Already deep at centre with newcomer Nazem Kadri joining Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Kevin Rooney, unsigned RFA Adam Ruzicka and potentially Dillon Dube, the Flames could add experience and depth with Jumbo as a 13th man.

Sutter no stranger to Thornton’s talent

There are plenty of connections to Calgary’s current roster. He played with Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weeger in Florida last year. Thornton also spent some of his best seasons playing against Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. The two were rivals when Sutter was with the division rival Los Angeles Kings.

When Sutter was GM in Calgary, he regularly took looks at players in their twilight years. Owen Nolan. Tony Amonte. Treliving is no stranger to that concept, either. Jaromir Jagr didn’t work out but his knowledge and work ethic was a teaching tool for some of the younger Calgary Flames.

Thornton’s playoff mentality — which Sutter often witnessed firsthand — is what the current Flames may most benefit from right now. Sutter’s last playoff coaching appearance before his reunion with the Calgary Flames last was a disappointing Kings loss to Thornton and the Sharks in 2016 – a five-game first-round upset.

“I’ve coached against him a lot. I have a ton of respect for him. It’s not just how long he’s played but the success and how he’s played at playoff time. I think what gets overlooked in all parts of this game is playoff performances,” Sutter said in March of 2021 when Thornton was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “That’s a guy, he’s knocked on the door a lot. His playoff performance has been immaculate, and his ability to recover and play through tough injuries is remarkable.”

Joining the Calgary Flames could be a win-win for Thornton and the franchise.

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