San Jose Sharks Take Away Captaincy from Joe Thornton in Latest PR Move

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San Jose Sharks Take Away Captaincy from Joe Thornton in Latest PR Move
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The offseason of the San Jose Sharks has been like a guy who starts a fight outside a bar, only the guy has zero intention of engaging in fisticuffs.

Sure, there's a big game being talked and there's a whole lot of posturing, wild arm motions and posing, but really, there's nothing happening. It's just a whole a lot of motioning and gesturing in the hopes that onlookers will lose sight of the fact that you haven't really done anything, and, after the fact, you will explain away your original intentions to throw down as a misunderstanding.

That brings us to the "big" news from the Sharks on Wednesday.

Translation: Joe Thornton is being stripped of the captaincy, and Patrick Marleau will not wear an "A" on his sweater. 

But hold on, the Sharks aren't "stripping" Thornton of the "C" at all. You misunderstand.

They're not stripping him of the captaincy. They're reallocating leadership principles in an effort to maximize the captaining potential among the group dynamic to better foster team-wide success.

It's almost five years ago to the day that the Sharks stripped—sorry, reappropriated the leadership hierarchy—the captaincy from Marleau, who went on to score a career-best 44 goals that season. That's something to keep in mind as pundits ask aloud how this reorganization of locker room supervisory rights will affect a team that had 111 points last season.

Don Smith/Getty Images

So, how will this move change the overall fortunes for the Sharks in 2014-15?

It won't. It doesn't mean a thing.

The Sharks were one of the best teams in the NHL on Tuesday and they will be one of the best teams in the NHL on Thursday. This is merely the latest public-relations move from an organization that promised sweeping, meaningful changes following the team's historic first-round collapse against rival the Los Angeles Kings, and Thornton and Marleau showed zero interest in waiving their no-trade clauses this summer.

If anything, today's announcement by the Sharks allows Thornton, who undoubtedly knew his days as captain were over, to shed the "C" with some dignity, as he clearly wants to be part of the team's plans moving forward and doesn't mind if someone else (Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are favorites) is leading. If he's willing to endure this, it shouldn't do anything more to a relationship with general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan that's clearly already strained.

Although, while McLellan said he spoke to Thornton about this potential change, Thornton said otherwise.

The Sharks' summer of semantics got under way last week when McLellan put a new spin on the rebuild talk from Wilson this summer during an interview with NHL.com.

We want to reset the hierarchy and culture in the organization, and that's really where the term rebuild came from. We feel we have a tremendous talent pool. We feel the players that are with our organization are part of the solution and not the problem now. As a staff, we talked about the ability to push and win as much as we can while we get younger, while we adjust the roles a little bit and give some of the younger players more responsibility. The term or the word used like that can be confusing at times.

See? Everyone was confused. You may think "rebuild" has a universal meaning in the sports world, but it actually can mean a lot of things. Sure, Wilson was very clear two trade deadlines ago that he wasn't using the word "rebuild" when trading Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus because Wilson, like all coherent adults, understands what it means to hear that word in sports. 

If you believe this was the Sharks' plan all along, you probably believe Thornton has a real chance at being named captain again and Wilson and McLellan didn't decide on the new captain months ago.

In a way, this is a special time, as we are living through some of the finest backtracking the hockey world has ever seen.

And what exactly is a "competition" to become captain? How would that work? Would the team hire NHL leadership guru Mark Messier to come to training camp and study which players exhibit the best leadership skills? Would there be specific tests doled out by McLellan to determine who should be captain? 

"OK, guys. Good practice. Now, I want everyone here in the locker room to stand up and give a speech. Here's the situation: It's Game 6 of the first round. We have a 3-2 series lead against the Kings and we're tied at one after two periods. I want you to stand up and address the room as if you were the captain. OK, Joe, you're up."

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Thornton stands, only to be sternly told to sit down by McLellan.

"Not you, Joe."

Joe Pavelski, dripping with sweat, rises to his feet at his stall: "OK, boys. Good period, boys. Way to have active sticks, boys. Way to work, boys," he says as he claps after each sentence. "Let's stick to our game plan and we'll be good, OK, boys? Now let's go out there, have our backup goaltender allow three goals, have Logan break his hand in a pride-driven fight at the end of the game and if we can do that all without our best defenseman, that'd be great too. Let's go!"

Here are the important things to remember about the Sharks offseason: They let Dan Boyle walk away. Their biggest free-agent addition was John Scott. Other Western powers improved, and the Sharks failed to reinforce the team while trying to trade the two best players the franchise has ever known.

Though McClellan recently denied trying to trade Thornton and Marleau, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun wrote in his "Cross Checks Blog," in June that it was Thornton, not the Sharks, who stopped a potential move to Dallas.

Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets. Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza. What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause. 

The Sharks spent their summer redefining the meaning of words and shifting around letters on jerseys. 

If the Sharks fall short again this year, keep that in mind before scapegoating Thornton and Marleau.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com. Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.

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