Sharks could go from Joe Captain to no captain

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Thornton
SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks in a face-off against the Los Angeles Kings in Game Two of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2014 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA – Will Joe Thornton captain the San Jose Sharks next season?

Will anyone?

“What would happen if nobody wore a letter on our team this year – not a single guy?” asked Sharks coach Todd McLellan on Saturday morning, throwing out the idea at the NHL draft. “What if nobody wore a letter? We’d still be the San Jose Sharks, and we’d have a leadership group.

“What would happen? If we didn’t have a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on our team, what would happen?”

Well, what would happen?

“I don’t know,” McLellan said with a shrug.

The Sharks might want to find out.

Since the Sharks became the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a seven-game series, falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round and adding to their history of playoff failures, general manager Doug Wilson has made strong statements about a “rebuild.” He has openly asked whether some veterans would want to be a part of it – veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Wilson also has talked about the Sharks’ culture. He has said some players told him in exit interviews that they felt like co-workers more than teammates.

But to Wilson, “rebuild” doesn’t mean tearing down the team to build it back up again. It means going from win-now mode to more of a development mode – giving larger roles to younger players on and off the ice. And even if he wants to, he can’t trade Thornton or Marleau. He gave them no-movement clauses in three-year contract extensions just five months ago, and both intend to stay in San Jose.

If the Sharks took the captaincy from Thornton and didn’t give it to anyone else, that might fit what they are trying to do. It might allow the younger players to take more ownership of the team without marginalizing Thornton. It might help the players become more tight-knit. The Sharks’ leadership group already included Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as well as Thornton and Marleau, but this could be a way for the executives and coaches to evaluate everyone in a different dynamic. 

“It could be, and maybe we have the right people,” McLellan said. “It’s an interesting theory.”

Asked if that’s something he would consider, McLellan said: “I don’t know. We shouldn’t have to broadcast to the hockey world that these are our captains and assistants and our leaders. What if nobody wore it and we went out and had our team? Would certain guys step up? Does it matter to have that ‘C’ and ‘A’ on? Maybe that’s what we’re looking for.”

McLellan added that he believed the best leaders have the best followers.

“Now, the leader convinces the followers and that type of stuff,” McLellan said. “But when the leader’s not around, what are the followers doing? The general in the army that people talk about, he’s not always in the field. He’s not always there. So what’s the secondary leadership group doing? What are the followers doing? Who’s taking charge when there’s only three people around?”

McLellan said the captaincy would be an “organizational decision” in which the coaches participate. But he noted that when he was in the Minnesota Wild organization, coach Jacques Lemaire rotated captains.

“The piece of felt that goes on is an indication that that’s the guy, but the character and the way people carry themselves, those are the captains,” McLellan said. “So we’ve got to get it right. Jumbo’s our captain right now, and we’ll make some decisions as we go forward.”