BOSTON (AP) – The struggling Boston Bruins traded captain Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night in exchange for three players.

The Bruins get forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau and defenseman Brad Stuart for Thornton, who signed a three-year, $20 million contract with Boston in August and was once thought to be the future of the franchise.

“I was blindsided,” Thornton said in a conference call. “On the one hand it’s disappointing, and on the other it’s good to start over again. Obviously when you don’t win, there’s going to be changes. … So I’ve got to move on.”

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said he expects Thornton to be in the lineup Friday in buffalo.

“Players like Joe Thornton don’t come available very often,” Wilson said. “He’s a big, physical guy with a lot of ability. He also knows a lot of our players very well. He should fit in well with our group.

“He’s a special guy. The combination of he and (Patrick) Marleau down the middle should be very strong for us.”

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Thornton, a three-time All-Star, had been the key to the Bruins’ offense. He scored more than 20 goals in each of his last five NHL seasons, including two with 30 or more. In 2003-04, he led the team in scoring with 23 goals and 50 assists.

Thornton said he was encouraged by the Sharks’ success in 2004, when San Jose went to the Western Conference finals.

“They had a great run there, and they’ve got great goaltending, obviously,” Thornton said. “I know (Marleau), and he’s a great center man. And hopefully we can be a great 1-2 punch.”

Thornton and Marleau were the No. 1 and No. 2 overall draft picks in the 1997 NHL draft.

This season, the 26-year-old Thornton has nine goals and 24 assists for Boston, which has lost nine of its last 10 games and is in last place in the Northeast Division.

“We felt we needed to shake up the team and sometimes you have to make some difficult decisions to better the team,” Bruins general manager Mike O’Connell said in a statement. “We feel we received three players who can help us immediately.”

San Jose lost to Dallas 4-1 on Wednesday night. The Sharks, last in the Pacific Division, are 0-7-3 in their last 10 games.

Thornton joins his cousin in San Jose, Sharks winger Scott Thornton. Their fathers are brothers.

“I obviously know him,” Scott Thornton said. “He’s one of the top 10 players in the league. He’s a big, powerful forward. I expect him to be a giant on special teams.”

Still, Scott Thornton expressed regret in losing Sturm, Primeau and Stuart.

“We lost three great teammates,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re all to blame for this. … We should all feel guilty about this.”

The departing Sharks players, all first-round picks, are expected to play for Boston on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

The 27-year-old Sturm has six goals and 10 assists this season, second-highest for the Sharks. He had a career-high 28 goals in the 2002-03 season.

Primeau, 29, has five goals and three assists this season. He has 563 career penalty minutes.

The 26-year-old Stuart, who has two goals and 10 assists, finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as top rookie following the 1999-00 season, in which he had 10 goals and 26 assists.

AP-ES-12-01-05 0015EST

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