The 2014-15 season was a drama-filled catastrophe for the San Jose Sharks. Their 10-year playoff streak came to an end when a roller-coaster season went completely off the tracks. San Jose finished four spots out of playoff position in 2015. It was simply a bizarre 12-month period. From the immediate aftermath of their playoff collapse in 2014 through the end of last season, little made sense regarding the direction of the team.
One of the main things that didn’t make sense was the decision to strip the captaincy from Joe Thornton after four seasons in the role. Changing captains (with the previous captain still on the team) will never improve a team’s ability to win hockey games. When the Sharks stripped the C from Patrick Marleau after the 2008-09 season ended, the team continued to be the exact same team they had always been; moderate playoff success but never to the Stanley Cup Final. The only thing that changing captains can do is create questions and drama.
While Marleau’s soft-spoken personality led to a rather seamless transition of the captaincy to Rob Blake and then Joe Thornton, the stripping of Thornton was a much different story. And it wasn’t surprising to see it coming. Thornton is the alpha dog of this team, regardless of whether he has a letter on the front of his jersey or not. Therefore, taking the coveted C away from him was bound to create controversy. With the team electing to go with only alternates last season, the question of captain and alternates was a story line all season long. Leadership and locker room culture were thought of as problem areas throughout the year.
Eventually the captaincy drama blew up when Wilson mentioned to season ticket holders that Thornton tends to lash out when under stress. Thornton responded by saying Wilson should shut his mouth and stop lying. Both Wilson and Thornton claim this spat is behind them and if that is the case, the Sharks would be wise just to give the captaincy back to Thornton. However, if they elect someone else as captain, Brent Burns could be a better option than fan-favorite Joe Pavelski.
Chewie for Captain
All offseason long, Pavelski has been the fan and media favorite to be the next Sharks captain. Many fans like to point out the EPIX road to the stadium series show where Pavelski made a locker room speech and then went out and scored a hat trick. There is no doubting Pavelski’s qualifications as a leader, but the man nicknamed Wookie might have the symbolic factor working in his favor.
While discussing the captaincy issue with a trusted league source, he mentioned Burns as a primary candidate, saying “Who wouldn’t follow Burns? Nobody.” And that got me thinking, if there is another alpha-male type in that dressing room, Burns would be it. Pavelski makes a great captain on paper, but naming No. 8 captain would likely lead to significant questions in comparing the differences between Thornton as captain and Pavelski. Which top-line forward is the better leader? Which Joe makes the other better?
Burns plays as hard as anyone in the league and is a fresher face within the organization. If the Sharks are trying to move away from the Thornton/Marleau era, going with Pavelski isn’t really a new vision. Pavelski has been with the Sharks since the 2006-07 season. The 6-foot-5 defenseman with the mammoth beard has only been with the club since the 2011-12 campaign. Having Burns as captain would be a symbolic changing of the guard.
Big Bad Burns
Despite defensive struggles adjusting back to the blue line last season, Burns is a dynamic player that provides both a physical and offensive presence from the back end. Considering the Sharks have been long labeled as a soft team lacking toughness, who better than Burns to be the top Shark on the pecking order? If any player has the ability to set a new/fresh tone in that dressing room, Burns has that presence. The Sharks would be electing a captain that can set a physical tone on the ice, a tone of a team that will not fold and is tough to play against.
Burns also doesn’t carry that reputation of playoff failures and he can take pressure off those who do, like Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski. Sharing the blue line with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Paul Martin, Burns as captain can make the focus of this year’s team their toughness and defensive prowess. With a year under his belt back on the blue line and a strong partner in Martin, Burns is likely to have a big year at both ends.
With a clean slate, no one player being named captain is going to make a team more successful. However, with the Sharks trying to turn around their reputation, image wise, naming the biggest, baddest looking dude the team captain does make quite a bit of sense.
Odds are Pavelski will be named captain, but first-year Sharks coach Peter DeBoer did coach Burns at the most recent World Championships, where No. 88 was named the top defenseman of the tournament. Certainly can’t argue that the Wookie would be a bad choice.