SAN JOSE (CBS/AP)  – The San Jose Sharks signed captain Joe Thornton to a $21 million, three-year contract extension over the weekend, locking up another key player before he could leave for free agency.

The Sharks announced the deal hours before losing 4-2 to Atlanta in their home opener. It came as little surprise given that Thornton had long talked about his desire to stay in San Jose and the Sharks never wanted him to test free agency after this season.

“Joe stepped up and made a tremendous commitment to this franchise, his teammates and the fans in San Jose,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “We are very pleased that we now have another key piece of this team’s core under contract for the next four seasons.”

Before the start of free agency this past summer, the Sharks signed top forwards Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to four-year contracts at reasonable prices. Defensemen Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray and forwards Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe have already been locked up to long-term deals.

“Joe is among the top players in the game, and along with several other core members of our team, we feel he is just entering the prime of his career,” Wilson said.

The 31-year-old Thornton is making $7.2 million this season and likely could have gotten a richer deal had he tested the open market after July 1.

Thornton has been one of the top players in the league since joining the Sharks in a trade with Boston in November 2005. He won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in his first season with San Jose, when he led the league in scoring with 125 points.

His 479 points since joining the Sharks are the third most in the NHL during that span. Only Alex Ovechkin with 511 and Sidney Crosby with 481 have more.

Thornton has posted at least 20 goals and 50 assists for seven straight seasons – the longest streak for any player since Steve Yzerman and Doug Gilmour did it eight straight times from 1986-87 to 1993-94, respectively.

Thornton has helped San Jose post the top record in the Western Conference the past two seasons. The Sharks made it to the conference final last season before being swept by Chicago.

He also helped Canada win a gold medal at the Olympics last winter.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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