The Associated Press announced today that the San Jose Sharks have named Joe Thornton the team's captain for this 2010 season. This position was previously held by Hall of Famer Rob Blake who recently retired this past offseason.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan made the announcement in Stockholm today. The Sharks open the season Friday in Sweden against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
From a nautical standpoint the captain is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the vessel and to ensure that the ship arrives to its port in a timely fashion.
From a hockey standpoint the captain is the backbone of the team—the first one in the door—the last one to leave and the voice and leader of the group.
Joe Thornton made comments eluding to this election earlier in the week when he stated that he would be a different captain than the one with the Bruins should he be selected.
"You grow as you age, and you kind of mature as a player," Thornton said. "I think you become more comfortable in your skin. Back then, you maybe let your game speak louder than your words and I think now you consider both. You can stand up and tell guys how it is or just go out and play."
And even though the big man may carry the "soft-spoken" or "too-easy-going" description, there is a definite mean and serious side to the center that often brings out the best in his play.
"I like to keep it easy, keep it fun in the locker room," Thornton said. "But once you get on the ice, I think there's a serious part. I do play with some passion on the ice."
Dan Boyle will once again be an alternate this season, applying his tenacity and leadership qualities to the fold. Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau will split time as the other alternates.
Thornton had a very successful postseason last year, and despite his off-kilter plus/minus rating, played with aggression, passion and delivered in the clutch.
In his series against the Red Wings, Jumbo accounted for crucial assists on two of the game winning goals including a picture perfect feed to Patrick Marleau for the OT winner.
From the outside looking in many fans would point to Thornton's lack of postseason success and his drastic dropoff in scoring. Joe averages 1.02 points a game only to see this average fall to .69 points per postseason game.
While that average may be acceptable to many players, it should not, nor is it acceptable to management, fans, and most of all to Joe Thornton himself.
When the Boston Bruins traded the Hart winning play-making center to San Jose back in 2005, a salary cutting move, Joe's subpar performances in the postseason was widely accepted as the fulcrum of the trade.
Thornton endured harsh critism as a young captain of a promising Bruin team back then and has evolved in many ways to the player we have all come to love and root for. Many of those critisms still remain, many still have time to be rebutted to.
Bottom line is, Todd McLellan has put a boom or bust type of asterisk to the "C" that now hangs from Joe Thornton's jersey in the locker room.
Joe has deferred blame and accountability before in the past, most recently in the 2009 postseason in which the Sharks were embarrassed against the Ducks in a first round exit.
He has also displayed a fire and grit last year in the postseason that hasn't been apparent in the big man's game for many years. And despite those who would quickly point to Thornton's run in Boston from 2001-2005, and laugh, would be remiss to not mention the state of flux the Bruins were in during that time.
A closer inspection of this selection only marks how dynamic and progressive Todd McLellan's choice is. If Thornton can take the next step in his game by becoming the leader, and players around him can respond the sky is the limit. Taking ownership, being the voice for the locker room and kicking the guy that needs motivation is exactly what Thornton is being called for.
A positive response would do wonders for the Sharks Stanley Cup chances.
Of course the pendulum could swing the other way, and this could be a bad move but with Joe's feisty play last year and continued growth of the Sharks youngsters as well as stars it doesn't seem likely.
For those who don't regularly follow the Sharks or watch Joe Thornton it is very easy to simply lump the man back into the "choker" category and be done with it.
Joe Thornton will look to prove those critics wrong this season.
Now is the time for Joe to respond and round out his resume as a NHL superstar by collecting the one piece of hardware that has been elusive his entire career. But to achieve this goal, the San Jose Shaks must continue to build upon the success of last year, and the confidence gained by putting away the Detroit Red Wings.
Taking ownership of this team, guiding the rudder and leading the ship to the port will be Joe's main task this upcoming NHL season.
The rest of the NHL will take notice to the next step in Jumbo Joe's decorated career as he aims to deliver the hardware to the San Jose Sharks organization.