Sharks Management Worries Far Too Much About Captaincy

Patrick Marleau, Rob Blake, Joe Thornton and now Joe Pavelski. The San Jose Sharks have now had four different captains over the last 7-8 seasons. Two of whom have been stripped of the captaincy despite remaining on the team (Marleau and Thornton). It is simply hard to think of any other team in recent NHL history or in all of NHL history for that matter that had two former captains still on the team.

Last season, when the Sharks went without a captain after stripping Thornton of the title/role, the team was surrounded by questions regarding team unity. A large portion of these questions resulted from the decision to remove Thornton as captain despite his obvious qualifications for the role. Remember when Thornton dropped the gloves with Ryan Getzlaf at the opening face off in game six of the 2009 first round series? That’s a captain looking to light a fire under his team.

Unlike many hockey folk outside of San Jose who believe Thornton doesn’t care enough, the Sharks are well aware that Thornton cares more about winning than most. His passion for the game, among other traits, makes Thornton a true captain, C or no C. Thornton remains the engine that runs the Sharks despite having turned 36-years old this summer. San Jose’s terrific power play? It is simply terrible without No. 19 orchestrating from the half wall. When he missed four games last season with an injury, the power play went ice cold. Small sample, but an indication of how bad this team would be without the future Hall of Famer. He is the most irreplaceable player on this team. 

Stripping Thornton of the Captaincy Was Stupid

*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

There was no reason to strip Thornton of the captaincy. He is one player wearing the letter. The Sharks organization has always liked to preach that they have leadership by committee. Well, if that is really the case, then who wears the C the shouldn’t make a difference. Clearly though the constant shuffling of the captains role shows that management believes different players need letters in order to lead. And if that is the case, then the Sharks are in trouble. True leaders don’t need a letter on the front of their jersey to step up in the dressing room. Just because Thornton was captain, shouldn’t mean any other player should be afraid to speak up and or call teammates out.

Having two former captains on the roster, and a new captain now in Joe Pavelski makes me scratch my head. It reminds me of National Football League teams who believe they have multiple starting quarterbacks. In football circles, we all know what that means. If a team thinks they have multiple good quarterbacks, that really means they have zero. With the Sharks, having essentially three top players who have been and/or are now captain, well, who really is captain? What does being captain even really mean for this team anymore? At this point, 25% of the forwards in the lineup have been captain.

Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar

Thornton was captain for four years and hardly anyone outside of the organization was calling for him to lose the captaincy after 2013-14. Switching captains does not ever make a team play better. It is a letter on a sweater, it literally has no effect on outcomes of games. Heck, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings had 27 points in 2013-14 and the Kings won the Stanley Cup. He has a history of dirty knee on knee collisions and wasn’t exactly leading by example that season but LA won the Cup anyway. Anze Kopitar would arguably be a better captain on paper, but the Kings have had championship success with Brown as captain. So for as long as Brown remains on the team, the Kings are never going to change captains. Again, switching captains can only make things worse for a team. It is never a solution to improving a club’s performance. Kopitar can lead as an alternate captain just the same and be the real top leader for that team while Brown holds onto the symbolic C.

Unnecessary Drama

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks, Milestones, NHL
(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

All the Sharks have done with the captaincy the last few years is create unnecessary drama that has caused the media and fans to hound the team about leadership. The constant questions about the captaincy clearly wore on the players last season when the team went without a captain and only iced multiple alternates. Players get sick of talking about the captaincy, those of us in the media get sick of talking about it but if the organization (aka general manager Doug Wilson) is going to make it an obvious source of drama, then we are all going to keep talking about it. What happens now if the Sharks suffer another playoff flop or miss the playoffs altogether for the second year in a row? Is Brent Burns going to be captain next year? Logan Couture?

Had new head coach Peter DeBoer and long time GM Wilson simply given the captaincy back to Thornton, we would all be able to shut up about the captaincy. But Joe Pavelski is now going to be scrutinized under the microscope and if this team doesn’t perform well, then these same questions are going to continue to come up. Unity and dressing room “culture” questions were non-existent while Thornton was captain. If the Sharks were smart, they would have just left the C with Thornton. Pavelski can lead just the same without having a C on the front of his chest.