BOSTON (AP) – The Bruins re-signed star center Joe Thornton on Thursday to a new three-year contract.

Thornton, a restricted free agent, will get $6.66 million for each of the three years. The signing eliminates the possibility of the Boston captain becoming an unrestricted free agent after the coming season.

“Joe’s signing was a priority and we are again making clear how much he means to this franchise,” general manager Mike O’Connell said in a statement. “He is among the upper echelon of players in our league and he just continues to get better.”

Since the NHL lockout ended last month, the Bruins were able to pursue free agents since they had only four players under contract and plenty of money to spend. They added defenseman Brian Leetch and forwards Alexei Zhamnov, Shawn McEachern and Dave Scatchard.

They also re-signed forwards Glen Murray and Sergei Samsonov and acquired left wing Brad Isbister from Edmonton for a fourth-round draft choice in 2006.

But the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Thornton, 26, is the key to the Bruins offense with a physical presence and a deft passing touch.

He has scored more than 20 goals in each of his last five NHL seasons, including two with 30 or more. In 2003-04, his second year as Bruins captain, he led them in scoring for the second straight year with 73 points, including 23 goals and 50 assists.

In seven NHL seasons after being taken with the top overall pick of the 1997 draft, he has 160 goals and 261 assists for 421 points in 509 games.

In the 2004-05 season, Thornton led Davos in the Swiss League with 54 points, seventh most in the league. He scored 10 goals and 44 assists in 40 games then added four goals and 24 assists in 14 playoff games, helping Davos to the Swiss championship. He later was named the MVP of the 2005 World Championships when he played for Canada. His signing came one day after Samsonov agreed to a one-year contract, and the Bruins signed left wing P.J. Axelsson for one year and agreed to terms with defenseman Jonathan Girard and goaltender Jordan Sigalet.

AP-ES-08-11-05 2029EDT

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