Why Patrick Marleau's Comments About Team Unity Should Cause Concern for Sharks

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJune 26, 2014

Patrick Marleau's recent comments show a failure of leadership.
Patrick Marleau's recent comments show a failure of leadership.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau’s recent comments about team unity should be raising some concern for the team and their fans.

According to CSNBayarea.com’s Kevin Kurz, general manager Doug Wilson was recently told by several players during exit interviews that the players are more like “co-workers and not teammates.”

Marleau’s reaction was arguably even more disturbing than the accusation itself. The former captain told Kurz, “I don’t see it as a big thing. Obviously, you want to have a close-knit team. I think there are certain things that we can do as an organization to make that happen, whether it’s going out and having a get-away together, and team bonding. Things like that.”

Unfortunately for the Sharks and their fans, Marleau’s reaction is the exact opposite of what you would want one of your team’s leaders to be saying. While Marleau’s response is not cause for outright panic, it does show how Team Teal needs a change in leadership and heart.

The Sharks need to show more heart.
The Sharks need to show more heart.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The first reaction you would want from Marleau or any veteran leader in the locker room is to deny such accusations, at least in public. Most successful teams adopt an “us against the world” mentality or at least put on that face. They take a criticism like that as a challenge. Some player is breaking rank and criticizing the emotional makeup of the team.

Behind closed doors, when the team is together in the sanctuary of the locker room, a leader should then be addressing this issue. If it has merit, a leader should be making the changes needed to improve the situation.

Instead, Marleau seems to just accept this alleged problem as no big deal. He’d rather have a team that pulls together and stands up for each other—but hey, if we don’t have it, it’s very easy to create and not a major issue.

That might be true in the regular season. Talent can take you far during an 82-game regular season. The talent gap between a team with 111 points, like the Sharks, and a 66-point team, like the Florida Panthers, can be significant.

But once the playoffs begin, it’s a different story. In the playoffs, nearly all of the remaining teams are very good or elite. The difference between the Sharks and a 100-point team like the Los Angeles Kings is often miniscule.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a two-month marathon, not a sprint. A team that pulls together—one that is close, that responds emotionally when the chips are down—can often pull off an upset over a more talented team in a seven-game series.

The New York Rangers did just that in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Down 3-1, they rallied after the unexpected death of Martin St. Louis’ mother and won the last three games of the series. Two of those games were on the road. The Rangers came from behind. The Penguins failed to hold a huge lead when they were ahead. They imploded when they needed to pull together.

Unfortunately, similar playoff disappointments have been experienced by the Sharks for roughly a decade.

The Sharks suffered another playoff collapse.
The Sharks suffered another playoff collapse.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Marleau also told Kurz, “None of this stuff usually comes out of the woodwork until something like this [the playoff collapse] happens. Everybody thinks it’s fine and everybody thinks it’s good, and then something like this happens and you’re like, maybe it’s not as good as we thought it was.”

The second part of Marleau’s quote addresses the other failure of the team’s present leadership. Good leadership doesn’t realize a problem after the playoffs are over. Winning leadership senses the problem before it’s too late and addresses it before it becomes fatal to a season. Successful leaders anticipate problems and lead; less successful leaders react well after the fact.

There is no doubt the Sharks are a very talented team. But to take that next step, new leadership is needed. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are elite players who can be part of a very good team. But they have proven they cannot be the leaders who take a team to the promised land.