Joe Thornton is likely considered the best player in San Jose Sharks’ history. Thornton tallied 1,055 points in 1,104 games with San Jose. He won the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy in his first season, and has over 100 playoff points. He played 15 years with the team, meaning he has been part of the organization for over half of its existence. However, Thornton has left the club to try to win his first Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This leaves the Sharks with a lack of center depth on the roster. However, even more notable could be the need for a new assistant captain. The Sharks have a full-time captain, Logan Couture, and alternated the “A’s” with Erik Karlsson and Thornton wearing the patch at home games, and Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns sporting them at away games. With this in mind, there are likely three options for a new assistant captain. All these players are to be on the team long term, have tenure with the Sharks, and lead by example.
Of the options, Marc-Edouard Vlasic should appear as the front-runner. Vlasic was drafted in the second round, 35th overall, in 2005. In 2006-07, he became a mainstay in the Sharks’ lineup. Vlasic has been a model of consistency for over a decade and will be around for a while still. He is 33 years old and is under contract through the 2025-26 season.
However, that long-term contract may not be the best. Vlasic is no longer the incredible defensive defenseman he used to be, and is paid $7 million for another six seasons. He additionally has a full no-movement clause, preventing him from ever leaving the Sharks unless he opts to waive it.
Vlasic is easily the most-tenured option for the Sharks’ assistant captaincy opening. He has been a model of consistency and defensive hockey in the past. However, his future effectiveness is uncertain — the only uncertainty before allowing him to wear a letter. It is also quite odd that the Sharks never gave him a leadership role in the past, considering he has been an option for numerous years.
Timo Meier would contrast the Vlasic selection. The rationale for Meier would be that the team is transitioning and expects him to step into a larger role. The Swiss winger was taken ninth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. He has been an impact player the last three seasons, including 30 goals in 2018-19, and leading the team in points last season. Meier is part of the young core of NHLers the Sharks have assembled, along with Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Donato, and Mario Ferraro.
The drawback to Meier is tenure. He has only been on the team full-time for three seasons. He has played quite well in those few seasons, always notching at least 20 goals, but three NHL seasons is fewer than other assistant captaincy options. He also has the shortest time remaining of the other options, with three more seasons at $6 million per. However, the Sharks are well-known for retaining their own players, so this would likely be a non-issue.
Meier makes sense if the team is looking to transition to this new core of young players. Karlsson and Burns are both older blueliners and Couture is 30, so giving the next assistant captaincy would create an evenness in representation for the older and younger players. While young, Meier is an emerging power forward and a strong candidate to take on a leadership role.
Evander Kane is possibly an odd option for consideration. One thing that is certain, he is an excellent and tenured player. He is 29 and scored at least 20 goals every season since 2015-16. Kane is also quite vocal especially as of recent. He is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance and constantly been vocal about the Black Lives Matter movement. His future with the team is quite certain, with his contract extending through 2024-25.
The problem for Kane is not media or performance, its lack of judgement in numerous instances. He missed six games last season due to suspension, and has missed numerous in past seasons for this reason.
Additionally, Kane has been involved in off-ice issues such as unpaid casino debts, and his trade demands while on the Winnipeg Jets, even saying he “asked for trade every off-season in Winnipeg.” Taking into account constant penalties and suspensions and off-ice drama, this could deter San Jose from choosing him as an assistant captain.
Kane is an intriguing option for the assistant captaincy. He has been a consistent goal scoring player for years and is great with being vocal on social justice, especially recently. While not joining the Sharks until the 2017-18 season trade deadline, he has a long-term contract in San Jose and been an impact player. However, repeated infractions on the ice and off-ice dramatics are clear indications of why the Sharks would be hesitant to increase his leadership role.
I believe Meier will be the next assistant captain for the Sharks. He struggled with consistency last season, putting up only four points in October and had multiple slumps of no point production. Despite this, he still led the team in points and was second in goals. He has been superb in his three full NHL seasons, and only turned 24 in October, so his best play is still in the future.
Additionally, the Sharks’ last season and likely upcoming season will be one of transition. Meier is part of an emerging young core for the Sharks, and giving him a letter would be the next step in his progression in the NHL. While all three previously mentioned options are possible, Kane’s constant suspensions and Vlasic’s regressing play far outweigh any of Meier’s cons.