With it looking increasingly likely both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will begin the 2014-15 season still on the Sharks roster, the team seems to be exploring other avenues through which to move on from the worst playoff loss in franchise history. Most of their ideas seem to revolve around shaking up the leadership core, which general manager Doug Wilson levied some rather pointed criticism at during an appearance on NHL Network last week.
"There’s a comment that was made by a group of my players, that we were co-workers and not teammates," Wilson said. "Really, what that means is they really hadn’t dug down to be there for each other and commit to what teammates have to do to be successful. Look at L.A. The things that they did, the game sevens where they just stuck with it, coming back against us, taking care of each other. Ours was somehow lost a little bit. Our players acknowledged it, I’ve listened to them, our coaches have acknowledged it."
Since that leadership shakeup is unlikely, at least for the time being, to come in the form of trading Thornton, the Sharks seem to be considering stripping him of the captaincy...but not granting that "C" to anyone else on the team. Speaking on the draft floor in Philadelphia, head coach Todd McLellan implied as much.
"What would happen if nobody wore a letter on our team this year - not a single guy?" McLellan asked this morning. "What if nobody wore a letter? We'd still be the San Jose Sharks, and we'd have a leadership group. What would happen? If we didn't have a 'C' or an 'A' on our team, what would happen?"
Thornton has served as the Sharks' captain since 2010, prior to which Hall Of Famer Rob Blake wore the "C" for a year following a four-and-half season reign by current alternate captain Patrick Marleau. Marleau was stripped of the captaincy himself, after the President's Trophy-winning Sharks were eliminated by eighth seed Anaheim in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. If the Sharks remove the "C" from Thornton's chest, it would be the second time in five years they've stripped one of their players of the captaincy despite him remaining on the team, virtually unheard of in the NHL.
"We shouldn't have to broadcast to the hockey world that these are our captains and assistants and our leaders," McLellan said. "What if nobody wore it and we went out and had our team? Would certain guys step up? Does it matter to have that 'C' and 'A' on? Maybe that's what we're looking for."
No, it probably doesn't matter who has that "C" and "A" on. But, if anything, that's probably a point in favor of the argument that the Sharks blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles had more to do with their goalies posting a combined .883 SV% from Games 4 through 7, irreplaceable #1 defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic missing two of those games due to injury and the Kings ultimately being a slightly better team than it had to do with the nebulous concept of leadership. But if the Sharks view their only options as removing the felt letter from Thornton's jersey or trading their best player, stripping Jumbo of the captaincy is clearly the way to go. Just don't assume that automatically changes anything.