The first in a series of in-depth free agent pieces for the Columbus Blue Jackets, we start off with a big fish: veteran center Joe Thornton.
Coming off an injury-plagued season that didn't allow him to be part of a strong San Jose Sharks team, it will be interesting to see how he decides to proceed.
After signing a one-year deal with the Sharks last season for $8 million, it's tough to peg where his value will be moving forward. Is he going to go Cup chasing? Is he going to be a final piece on a contending team, or is he content on riding off into the sunset with Sharks?
Looking at the Blue Jackets center depth, it really shouldn't be as bad as it was going into this past season. Adding a player like Thornton immediately puts the Blue Jackets into an enviable spot. At the very worst he would be 1B for them, and for a young player like Pierre-Luc Dubois, there aren't many models of consistency and professional better than Thornton.
Pushing a player like Alexander Wennberg down into a third-line role possibly also allows him to get back to his game. There's a distinct possibility with all three in tow, the Blue Jackets could be looking at three 50-point centers. It doesn't get more deadly than that and if the Blue Jackets can do it, even for a year, why not?
This will be the most difficult part to evaluate. Because of the injury, Thornton may need to be put on a limited games regiment but still, even in an injury-shortened season, outscored a significant portion of the Blue Jackets.
Considering that, more than likely this would be on a one-year deal, any issue of backing up the Brinks Truck is probably overstated. Possible new deals for Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin wouldn't kick in until 2019-2020, so spending in the range of $4-8 million shouldn't be out of the realm of possibility – especially for a player of Thornton's caliber.
If you're making a real push and are unsure of the cast of characters past the 2018-19 season, Thornton is a risk you might be willing to take.
We'll put it directly in the middle. The Blue Jackets had interest in Thornton last year before he re-signed with the Sharks, and it wouldn't be surprising if they showed similar interest this summer.
The Blue Jackets have a need down the middle, but it's not immediately clear where they put that on their priority list. Should Thornton decide to test the market, he's going to be one of the top players available. Future Hall-of-Famers don't grow on trees.