While it probably didn't come as a surprise to anyone who has kept tabs on the Sharks organization's rhetoric this summer, questions still abound regarding the team's announcement earlier this week that Joe Thornton will no longer serve as captain. Newly-extended associate coach and Hockey Hall-Of-Famer Larry Robinson appeared on TSN 690 radio in Montreal for a surprisingly candid interview that explained some of the thought process behind the Sharks' decision to go with a "clean slate" approach to their leadership core ahead of training camp.
"It's never an easy decision, and it's not the only decision, but there was definitely a shake-up needed," Robinson said in an appearance on The Montreal Forum show. "Especially after being up 3-0 and then losing four straight to a team that we should have never lost to. You always look to your leaders and we certainly look to all our top players, not just Joe and not just Patrick, but all of our top players as a whole and when you have one goal, two assists and collectively a minus-29 in your final four games, you have to start looking to shake things up a little bit."
Combined plus-minus? *takes a drink*
"I don't think this is to put all the onus on Joe or even Patrick for that matter but there's definitely leadership that has to be found somewhere within and if it's not Joe and if it's not Patrick then we're looking for somebody else to step forward and I think that's the main reason we're doing what we're doing. We're waiting for somebody now to step forward and take charge of this team."
Robinson also talked about how the decision to shift gears with the leadership core was made easier by the fact that Thornton is at a late stage of his career, which jives with what we've heard from Doug Wilson for much of the offseason about turning the team over to younger players like Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the not-actually-that-young Joe Pavelski. Robinson also believes unburdening Thornton from leadership responsibilities could be a blessing in disguise for the star center.
"We made a conscious effort last year and kind of the year before that. We weren't in a rebuild, we were in a reorganization and we've got a lot of good young players in our system. I think in this case here if Joe was, say, in the middle of his career it might be a little bit different but he's, and I hate saying the downside of it, but nonetheless he's in the late stages of his career. So this might actually be a blessing that 'Okay I can go out and just play. I don't have to worry about being a leader or about the C on my shirt. All I have to do is go out and play hockey and enjoy my last years and try to win a championship.' I think, deep down, as an organization that's what we want to see as well."
The most intriguing bit of information Robinson shared was that Thornton's unique sense of humor (which we're well-versed in at this point) potentially alienated some of the younger players on the team and was perhaps part of the reason Thornton will not enter camp with a 'C' on his chest.
"[Thornton] had a tendency to sometimes have a cutting sense of humor and sometimes people can take that the wrong way. He sometimes had a delivery which a lot of the young kids felt intimidated by and you certainly can't be intimidated by your captain or even your assistants. You have to feel comfortable and if you had a problem or if you need something or are looking for a lift, you usually look to your leaders and your captains to get out there. And it's possible that maybe Joe didn't provide it for our team."
There's a lot of other interesting stuff in the interview, including Robinson's experience in helping Dan Boyle get back up to speed following his concussion and his thoughts on Vlasic who he hints could be part of the new leadership core. I'd definitely recommend listening to it in full if you have the time.