For the second time in five years, the San Jose Sharks have stripped a player under contract of his captaincy. After removing the "C" from Patrick Marleau's chest following the team's first-round loss to Anaheim in 2009, general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan confirmed today that Joe Thornton, who took over the captaincy in 2010 when Rob Blake retired, will no longer wear a letter.
Replacing him will be...nobody. At least for the time being, the Sharks appear to be comfortable entering training camp without any captains or alternate captains (Marleau has been stripped of his "A" while Dan Boyle, the team's other alternate last season, signed with New York as a free agent). Determinations of a new leadership group will be made at some point, but not necessarily before the season starts. Technically, Thornton could regain his captaincy when those decisions are made but that seems unlikely.
This isn't completely unexpected as McLellan dropped hints two months ago at the draft in Philadelphia that it was possible the Sharks would enter the season without a captain or any alternates. He reiterated again last week that the "rebuild" Doug Wilson referred to at the start of the offseason was about resetting "the hierarchy and culture in the organization." Entering the season as the only team in the NHL without a captain or any alternates should accomplish that.
I don't pretend to know anything about the dynamics in the Sharks' locker room but pretending that taking Thornton's "C" away changes how the leadership structure operates seems silly. Thornton and Marleau have been in San Jose longer than every other Shark on the roster; they were the established leaders of the team, both on and off the ice, when Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture and every single one of the other candidates to replace Thornton as captain broke into the league. Slapping a felt "C" on Couture's chest isn't going to suddenly make everyone listen to him instead of Thornton unless the real reason John Scott and Mike Brown are here is to punch their teammates into submission until they do.
But, hey, it beats the hell out of trading Thornton (although, presumably, part of the reasoning behind this decision is to move into phase two of getting him to waive his no-movement clause). Ultimately who wears the "C" isn't going to have an impact on how the team performs on the ice. Their playoff loss to the Kings (who, again, won the Stanley Cup and who, again, were closer to being eliminated by the Sharks than any other opponent) had a lot more to do with getting .883 goaltending from Games 4 through 7, losing their #1 defenseman and entering the playoffs with several key players still nursing injuries than it did "leadership" or any other nebulous concept. Stripping Thornton of the captaincy is a misguided overreaction that won't improve the team's performance on its own but it also won't hurt the team's performance on its own (apart from further alienating their best player but the organization has already done a bang-up job of that this summer) so, whatever.
At any rate, it was a lot more fun to write about Joe Thornton and stripping in an entirely different context.