Joe Thornton (left) and Tobias Enstrom (Getty Images)
Don’t let the San Jose Sharks’ captain search fool you: this is the same team that collapsed against the L. A. Kings in the playoffs last year, no matter who wears the ‘C.’
The underachieving San Jose Sharks tried a new sort of rebuild this summer: they juggled a few letters and called it a day.
The Sharks talked big and did little this summer, After flaming out against the Los Angeles Kings and blowing a three-game lead in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
Their top six forwards remain unchanged, aside from Burns taking Boyle’s spot on defence. Alex Stalock is expected to take more starts from Antti Niemi this year, but other than those small changes and a silly captaincy search, it’s status quo in San Jose.
General manager Doug Wilson didn’t add any leaders to the dressing room in the off-season. Instead, he undermined Joe Thornton’s leadership by stripping him of the captaincy, just as he did with Patrick Marleau a few years ago.
Wilson appears convinced the ‘C’ bestows leadership, and apparently believes a shift in jersey letters will change what’s happening with his underachieving team.
What he seems not to grasp is that most teams these days have a leadership group – a collection of veterans who lead the way together. Those players don’t lead with the letters on their shirts, but with their words and their actions on the ice.
Players won’t suddenly ignore Thornton because he doesn’t have a ‘C,’ and they didn’t start ignoring Marleau when he lost it, either. Both players are still prominent members of the Sharks' leadership group, no matter what letter they wear.
If Wilson wanted to truly stop Thornton from leading, he should’ve acquired someone else to be captain. Or better yet, he didn't have to re-sign Thornton or Marleau to three-year extensions in January. He could've let both players walk away and started fresh with a younger leadership group.
Instead, Wilson is trying to change his team without changing his team. He talks like he’s retooled the Sharks, but he hasn’t done anything beyond the Boyle and Burns moves.
Naming Thornton and (hilariously) Marleau as assistant captains changes nothing. Holding captain auditions only makes things awkward, because everybody on this team is already used to following Thornton’s lead.
Doug Wilson says Thornton can win back the captaincy, but if you believe that, I’ve got some magic beans to sell you.
Wilson must be worrying about his job at this point, given that his Sharks have become a perennial playoff punch line. He can try to lay the blame at Thornton’s feet, but if the Sharks play well in the regular season and flame out again in the playoffs, it could cost Wilson his job.
So enjoy the sideshow that is the Sharks’ captain auditions, but don’t fool yourself. This is the same team that lost to the Kings in the playoffs last year, for better or worse.
That said, how great would it be if they named Thornton captain again?
Or what if the new captain is – wait for it – Patrick Marleau?