The year was 1997, and the Bruins were a team that needed a young superstar. Joe Thornton was selected first overall by Harry Sinden. The 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound center man was widely praised for his passing ability and vision on the ice. He managed to score 122 points in his final season in the Ontario Hockey League.

Thornton would go on to spend seven seasons with the Black and Gold. At first the future appeared very bright for him. His production was strong during the early portions of his career. Despite his success, the Bruins always failed to go deep into the postseason.

Thornton scored 100+ points in three straight seasons from 2001-02 to 2003-04′. He played in 35 playoff games in Boston, only scoring a total of 18 points, six goals. Many believed that Thornton deserved a reputation for choking in the postseason. It was not all Joe’s fault, but looking back he would likely admit that he needed more production during the postseason with Boston.

During the 2004-05′ lockout, Joe would head to Switzerland to play for HC-Davos. On November 30th, 2005, Thornton received a call from Mike O’Connell. The captain had been traded to San Jose. Bruins fans were left speechless.

Being a young Bruins fan at the time, it was devastating. Many thought of Thornton as a franchise player that would eventually win a cup. The feeling was very similar to the Tyler Seguin trade, minus the bodyguard outside his hotel room, partying, and immaturity.

The Bruins received Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, and Wayne Primeau in return. The trade gave Boston much more cap space to work with and laid the foundation for a Stanley Cup win in 2011. Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard would be signed after Thornton left. Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference would be acquired in exchange for Sturm and Primeau. Kobasew would be dealt to the Wild, and that trade would end up helping the Bruins acquire Alexander Khoklachev. Craig Weller was also acquired, and he would be packaged with Byron Bitz to Florida. The Panthers draft picks produced Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski.

Now it’s 2016 and Joe Thornton certainly appears to have matured. His beard his a monstrosity, it’s actually distracting to look at him during interviews. He looks like he has been cutting lumber in Washington for the past 15 years. It’s been more than a decade since he was traded to San Jose.

Thornton and his teammates are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals. It will be San Jose’s first trip in franchise history. Only two active NHL players have played in more games than Thornton without reaching the Finals.

Emerging superstar Brent Burns commented on the leadership that both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau bring to the Sharks, “It’s two legends. Those two are some of the best players to ever play the game. It’s huge to get them here. They’ve done pretty much everything else. They sometimes take a bad rap in the media, which is unnecessary. Anybody that’s played with them sees they work and what kind of teammates they are, what kind of people they are. They’re two of the best.”

So Thornton will finally get his shot at the Stanley Cup after all of these years. Despite the lament of many Bruins fans, trading Thornton produced some of the best years of Bruins hockey that we had seen since the early 1990’s. Both sides should be happy with the result the deal brought, especially if the Sharks raise the cup.

After a 19 year career that has produced 1,341 points over 1,367 game played, there may finally be redemption. It’s officially been Thornton’s strongest postseason stretch of all time. He has 18 points in 18 games. After 150 games of banging his head against the wall in the playoffs, the former Bruins captain is now only four wins away from lifting the Cup.

What a story it would be if Joe Thornton met Phil Kessel in the Stanley Cup Finals.