Breaking: Leafs nearly landed former first overall pick last summer, may very well get him this July.

They were a lot closer than people realized.

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This summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs landed one of the top free agents available in Patrick Marleau. The father figure "adopted" the kids on the team like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner - and has played a pivotal role for the Leafs, providing offense and veteran leadership.

It was believed the Leafs had interest in making it a package deal and bringing in Marleau's longtime teammate and friend Joe Thornton, but "Jumbo Joe" opted to stay put for another year, with the San Jose Sharks offering him a lucrative one-year deal at $8 million, making him the highest paid player on the team along with Brent Burns.

Toronto certainly did not offer him that kind of money, as they could not afford it and it made little sense to pay that much for a 38-year-old. 

Thornton will turn 39 on July 2nd, and because of this massive one-year deal, he may very well be willing to take a pay cut for one last chance at the Stanley Cup.

With 27 points in 40 games, he's clearly still an effective producer, and his intangibles will be a gift from the hockey gods as far as Mike Babcock is concerned.

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz, chief reporter for the San Jose Sharks, revealed a nugget about Thornton that we didn't have before.

"What I can say with 100 percent certainty is that Thornton wants to keep playing hockey after this season, and retirement is not even on his radar," Kurz said.

"I do believe Thornton was closer to signing with Toronto last summer than many people realize — something I picked up on last week during that road trip. If the Sharks miss the playoffs or suffer another first-round defeat, he may not be as deadset on returning to San Jose as he was this past offseason if a team like the Maple Leafs, or another contender, comes calling again."

Seemingly, the allure of having one more chance at winning with San Jose compelled Thornton to stay, and the $8 million incentive certainly was a factor, let's not kid ourselves.

But as Kurz explains, and we alluded to it ourselves - Thornton wants to win, and with not much time left in his career, Toronto is likely a safer bet. Playing for Babcock, and reuniting with Marleau will be huge incentives. Not to mention the fact that there will be less pressure on him, with Matthews and Kadri leading the way down the middle.

With Tyler Bozak likely on the way out, Thornton would give the Leafs a scary middle, making them one of the most competitive teams in the league at that position.

Furthermore, there appears to be a plan in place to eventually transition William Nylander to centre, and who better to mentor him than Jumbo Joe?

One thing is for sure - if this is going to happen, Thornton and Kadri will have to make amends.