Sharks Stripping Thornton of Captaincy Disgraceful, Patronizing

 

Yesterday the San Jose Sharks announced that they were stripping Captain Joe Thornton of his captaincy and Patrick Marleau of his alternate captaincy. They plan to enter training camp with a “clean slate” and let the players compete to earn the C and the A’s.  OK then.

Last season ended for the Sharks when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Cup Champion LA Kings. It doesn’t matter that the Sharks finished fifth in the league with 51 wins and 111 points. Apparently the “statistical revolution” currently going on in the NHL does not take into account things like sample size – which if it did, would mean that people recognize that 51 wins out of 82 games is a lot more significant than going 3-4 in a seven game series.

 

Joe Thornton (Dinur/Flickr)

Joe Thornton (Dinur/Flickr)

Since we do not recognize the ridiculousness of this notion,  fans and analysts alike clamour for change at the first sign of trouble. Yes, the Sharks have been a good regular season team for years and have always failed in the playoffs, however, contrary to popular opinion, this is rather meaningless. There is a far better chance that the Sharks have just been unlucky in the playoffs than there is that they are a team full of chokers.

There is literally a zero percent chance that the reason the Sharks lost was because of the leadership – or lack there of – of Joe Thornton (or anyone on the team, for that matter). They lost, but there doesn’t have to be any blame. Someone has to lose and if there is fault to be had, it’s with the league for having a set-up that sees two such strong teams play each other in the first round. Certainly it’s not Joe Thornton’s fault that the NHL seeds its’ teams and tracks its’ standings in preposterous ways.

Look, I know the NHL and their teams are not going to suddenly stop caring about public perception – it is as much of a business as it is a game. But, they could be a little less offensive about it.  What the Sharks are doing here is akin to calling their fans stupid.  If they feel changes are necessary, then make them.  They didn’t.  The Sharks barely had any roster turnover this summer (and this is a good thing, a 51 win team does need a lot of changes just because they got unlucky in the playoffs). They kept their coach and GM (again, good. It’s smart not to overreact).  But why then do they feel the need to make symbolic gestures more likely to hurt their club then help it?

 

(Photo courtesy of Justin Yamada/ Flikr.)

(Photo courtesy of Justin Yamada/ Flikr.)

And if all this sounds familiar, it’s because the Sharks did the same stunt in 2009 when they stripped Marleau of the Captaincy and gave it to Rob Blake. It didn’t make them any closer to the Cup then and it won’t do anything now. It is simply a move designed to make it seem like they are making changes and being proactive in their quest to win a championship.

It just seems like they are patronizing their fans. Offering them up something meaningless and calling it “change.” Personally, I would have found it refreshing if they called a press conference after the season ended and said “Look, this isn’t the result we wanted, but we like our team, we think 50 wins is pretty damn good and we’re going to stick with it, despite what anyone outside the organization thinks.” In the world we live in today, people are smart, they are aware of different levels of media meanings and they know how to deconstruct messages.  You can’t patronize your fans anymore, and the Sharks should know better than to pull this kind of meaningless manoeuvre and call it change. I call it a joke, and an insulting one at that.

If they really had a problem with Thornton or his leadership, they’d trade him. Ten to one says they took him aside and explained it was nothing personal and that they really just had to look like they were doing something and that they’d consider it really cool if they he’d go along with it. If they didn’t do that, he’d probably be pretty angry and even maybe demand a trade (which is the other possibility since Thornton has a NMC and controls his destiny, but it’s hard to imagine them being that immature – I am sure if they said “we don’t want you,” he would say “fine,” and move on).

 

Photo Courtesy of C. Alexander

10/10/05-3/27/10

Overall, I don’t care at all who is the captain of a team. I think it is a symbolic gesture and important only because you need to designate a guy who can go over and talk to the ref in order to maintain order on the ice.  Leadership is something that you can’t really explain or quantify. Some guys are good leaders and others are not, but if you haven’t been around them you can’t really know for sure. Certainly management approved stooges do not make good leaders and whether or not he has a “C” on his jersey, Thornton will be the same “leader” he was previously. I do, however, think that beyond being insulting to their fans, this move insults a sure first ballot Hall of Fame player who has been nothing but class and production for his entire stay in San Jose, one in which has cemented his status as an all time great in the NHL and easily the best Sharks player in their short history. For that reason, this move is not just insulting to the teams fans, but an absolute disgrace.

In reality, the only way to realistically give yourself a reasonable shot at the Cup is to build a team capable of winning 50 regular season games and hope you get lucky in the playoffs.  The Sharks did that and whoever they give the captaincy to isn’t going to make a difference. This move can only hurt – it insults their best player and it insults their fans.

 

 

 

James Tanner

James Tanner

Writing for The Hockey Writers and elsewhere. Covering the Leafs and the Coyotes.
James Tanner
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6 Comments

  1. Teams may have inquired about Thornton’s availability given Wilson’s rebuild comments, but Wilson has said he did not receive any real trade offers or actively seek any trade offers for Thornton. Wilson has said he never asked Thornton to waive his No Move Clause, or even discussed the possibility of a trade.

    So, get your facts straight Zakk & kagee. Thornton has not refused to be traded, and they (SJ) have not ever said they wanted to trade Thornton or Marleau. TMac & Wilson have actually said they are part of the solution.

    Reporters/commenters just assumed Wilson’s “Want to live here more, then play here” comment was directed at Thornton & Marleau. Wilson has made clear it wasn’t, and the one player it most clearly fit, Stuart, has been quietly traded (and $3.8M salary). Wilson has moved 8-10 mid 30’s players the last couple of years, and SJ has gone from one of the older teams to one of the younger teams, as well as being well under the SCap, so it is a rebuild of sorts, even though they still have Thornton & Marleau.

    Still, both Thornton & Marleau made it clear that, despite the rebuild talk, they liked the team’s future, their teammates, and wanted to play in SJ and win a SCup in & for SJ. Sound like leaders to me.

  2. The best change the Sharks made all summer was dumping Drew Remenda. As for addressing the importance of the C, Andrew, don’t you think you’re protesting too much? This is an extensive argument to conclude that the thing you’re arguing about is only good for talking to the ref. Surely you don’t minimize the importance of the captaincy down to that. While I do think that stripping it from Joe is odd, historically when I think of players losing the C I think of Brett Hull and Eric Lindros, neither of whom should have worn it in the first place; those players did something to lose the C. So what did Joe do? The question is what didn’t he do. It’s a captain’s job to rally the team when they’re up 3-0 in a series and starting to lose. If neither he nor Marleau could do it, why not put it up for grabs? Furthermore, if the C means so little in your eyes, then why do you care whether Joe has it or not?

  3. The San Jose Sharks did something amazing this off-season….no, they didn’t improve their team, no they didn’t ‘clean the slate’ either. They went from being one of the most well-respected organizations in the league, a solid reputation they’ve built over the last 10-15 years, to become one of the biggest jokes in the league. Scrub orgs like the Islanders have to be sitting back laughing at how far the Sharks have fallen in league ‘cred.’ It’s sad, and as a Sharks fan since inception I can say that I’ve never been less excited for a season to begin as I am this year.

  4. while stripping yet another captain is the height of the stupidity of Comrade Wilson’s regime, there have been multiple reports that there trades in place that Thornton declined due to the NMC given to him by Comrade Wilson.

    If the reports are to be believed (and I do) then it speaks volumes of the blase attitude Thornton has for hockey. I still think the “we want player that want to play here, not live here” was firmly aimed at Jumbo.

    The locker room and the interaction between the front office and players have become toxic.

    Baseless accusation of the day: It’s the Ghost of Craig Janney doing all this mischief.

  5. Well they did say they would like to trade Thornton iirc (http://www.thescore.com/news/527153) but Joe said nope, he loves it there…so the next best thing for management is making his life miserable first off by stripping his captaincy, having their coach give him 2nd line minutes, less special teams yadayada

  6. Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

    Fully agreed, captaincy changes are stupid. It does nothing to improve on ice performance, only thing it can do is cause drama in the room and possibly hurt team performance.

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