"I'm just looking forward to working with him again," Deboer told Sportsnet's Luke Fox on Thursday, adding he knew Thornton would be back when he saw him working out a few days after the Sharks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Thornton has been candid about his plans moving forward. He told reporters at the NHL Awards he'll return for the 2019-20 campaign, and probably more. Jumbo Joe also said he'd only play for San Jose shortly after the St. Louis Blues ended the Sharks' season.
The Sharks have $4.68 million in remaining cap space will 21 players signed, according to CapFriendly. General manager Doug Wilson has already managed to lock up Erik Karlsson for eight years and ink RFAs Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier to new deals but lost captain Joe Pavelski in free agency to the Dallas Stars.
With Pavelski gone, it could open the door for Thornton to return as the club's captain. He wore the "C" beginning in the 2010-11 season but had it stripped by former head coach Todd McLellan in August 2014.
DeBoer raved about Thornton's leadership Thursday, specifically during the Sharks' remarkable comeback victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.
Trailing 3-0, San Jose was handed a controversial five-minute power play after Pavelski went down. The Sharks' top power-play unit scored three goals to tie the game but had been on the ice for over three minutes.
Thornton, a member of the second unit, told DeBoer to "keep the No. 1 unit out there," according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. DeBoer said he still gets emotional thinking about Thornton's leadership in that moment.
The heart and soul of the Sharks, Thorton proved last season he can still get it done on the ice, tallying 51 points in 73 games.