The San Jose Sharks announced on Thursday how they plan to replace retired Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake in the captain’s role. The final decisions should come as little surprise to most.
As I predicted in August, Joe Thornton will serve as the eighth captain in Shark’s history in this their 20th year of hockey (19th season due to the 2004-2005 lockout).
As for the alternates, one “A” will go to top defenseman Dan Boyle, with the second “A” following a rotating assignment between former captain Patrick Marleau for home games and gritty forward Ryane Clowe for away games.
The selections were a conglomerate effort, with players, coaches, and management all weighing in to help head coach Todd McLellan determine who was most fit to lead the team in 2010-2011 and beyond. The entire team seems excited for the choices and the choices make perfect sense.
Practically ever since Thornton arrived in San Jose as part of a blockbuster trade in November of 2005, he has been the de facto leader of the San Jose Sharks.
He nearly immediately ascended to the role of top-line center, and despite constant claims early in his tenure that the Sharks were “Patty’s Team”—alluded to the leadership role of then-captain Patrick Marleau—the team’s play seemed to revolve around Thornton.
Players would consistently look for Thornton to make a move rather than trying to push the pace themselves.
The same remains true even today.
Following the announcement of Thornton as captain, alternate captain Ryane Clowe was quoted as saying “You could say as Joe goes, we go as a team.” Such is a perfect summation of the situation in San Jose over the last five years and largely explains the selection of Thornton as captain.
The alternates make perfect sense as well.
Dan Boyle has been the leader of the defensive unit and the quarterback of the Sharks power play basically since he arrived via trade in the 2008 offseason. He is far and away the best defensive player on the team, and may well be the best pure skater and puck-handler the Sharks have as well.
Boyle’s leadership has never been in question, and the Sharks have gotten exactly what they expected from him when the acquired him two seasons ago, so it is no shock to see him retain the “A” he sported last season.
Rotation of the second “A” is an interesting choice. However, as I explained in the article referenced earlier, Clowe and Marleau are certainly both deserving candidates.
Marleau served as Sharks captain from 2004-2009 following the trade of long-time captain Owen Nolan to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003.
After being relieved of the captaincy last season, Marleau turned in his best effort of his career, scoring 83 points and 44 goals, and catching fire as the playoffs wore on, contributing nearly all of the Sharks goals in the Western Conference Finals against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks.
Clowe has been a key contributor to the success the Sharks have enjoyed over the last several seasons—winning the President’s Trophy (best regular season record) in 2008-2009, and finishing as the top seed in the Western Conference in 2009-2010.
Clowe does not have the flashy numbers of Thornton, Marleau, and Dany Heatley, but his grinding style of play makes everyone else around him better. He is also one of the most consistent players on the team, and was one of the only players who continued to produce throughout the late-season swoon the Sharks suffered last season.
There was some expectation that Clowe could be included as part of a trade this offseason, but now that the Sharks have decided to keep the key forward, it is no surprise he was selected to share the alternate captain’s role.
News of the captain and alternate captain assignments followed Tuesday’s news that the team would not offer a contract to camp tryout and former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja. Despite what coach McLellan called “a very competitive camp” from the veteran, the Sharks decided not to extend a contract offer.
McLellan cited the play of rookie Mike Moore as a key reason behind the decision not to sign Lilja. The team has been impressed with Moore’s play, composure, and consistency throughout the preseason and felt that with the time Moore has put in with the Shark’s development program that he has “earned the opportunity” to play with the big club.
There is certainly something to be said for that reasoning, but with a tandem of goaltenders—neither of who possess the consistent ability to “stand on their heads” as Drew Remenda would say and steal games by themselves—this could be another case where loyalty ultimately hurts the Sharks.
It is perfectly possible that Moore and fellow youngster Jason Demers could vastly exceed expectations this season, and Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin could return to the form that inspired Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to trade for them in the first place.
If that comes to pass, the Sharks could be fine on defense. But if Demers and Moore show signs of their youth and inexperience, and Huskins and Wallin continue to disappoint, the Sharks could regret the decision not to retain the veteran presence of Lilja.
The Sharks held on to former goaltender Evgeni Nabokov longer than they probably should have, despite a long résumé of playoff disappointments.
That decision prevented the team from having the flexibility of pursuing other players to improve the team (because of Nabokov’s high salary) and may have kept the Sharks from advancing as far as they could have in several playoff seasons.
The decision to release Lilja in favor of Moore could be a similar situation—where Doug Wilson’s loyalty to longer-tenured players ultimately hurts the team.
Finally, considering Nabokov’s potential replacements, the Sharks are still carrying a trio of goaltenders as they prepare to open play tomorrow in Stockholm. The three-goalie roster will likely only survive the first two games, as the Sharks have special dispensation to carry an extra player given European trip.
The Sharks will need to move one of the three before returning to North America, and given Lilja’s departure, this may come as part of a deal to attain a veteran defenseman.
It had long been assumed that the Sharks would jettison Thomas Greiss, but given preseason performances, that may no longer be the case. As for whom they will cut ties with, Sharks fans will likely have to wait until after the two Sweden games to find that out.
Keep the Faith!