PHOTO: http://www.fearthefin.com/2014/8/20/6050839/sharks-strip-joe-thornton-of-captaincy Photo credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
We are nearing the end of another offseason. This one was particularly interesting after yet another letdown by the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs. They seem to be in disarray, most recently with the announcement last month that there would be no captain or alternates through training camp. Is this a statement to both the players and fans?
The news is troublesome and embarrassing for us Sharks fans by those watching in the entire league. I’ve already had Kings fans chuckle at this or be completely dumbfounded and silent. As one friend said, “Cassie, for the first time I have nothing to say.” For me, I was completely devastated at first. Joe Thornton is my favorite player. How dare he be stripped of his title!
OK, I get it. There needs to be a change. Some kind of change. Any change! Many teams in the past have gone without captains and have used 3 alternates instead. After my initial grieving period, I started to think about the qualities that a leader should have; more importantly, what qualities a professional ice hockey team captain should have.
The first thing that pops into my mind is presence. We always hear about how presence is so important both on and off the ice. Physically, Thornton is a big man, but he was not known to fight unless he absolutely had to. I think presence needs to go beyond the physical, though. Presence also entails reliability and smarts. Translated to hockey, this means that the captain is counted on and relied upon to make plays happen, especially in dire situations, and is smart on the ice, with or without the puck. Thornton has an amazing ability to make plays and because of that, he’s pretty darn smart with and without the puck. He sees space on the ice before the space even exists, many times resulting in an assist – he’s the Assist King! He’s just that smart. So when you combine reliability and smarts, your presence becomes that much more remembered and known. I think Thornton encapsulated those traits well.
Next up: communication that extends beyond the ice and onto the bench and into the locker room. We all know hockey players make calls and “chirp” at each other on the ice, but the captain needs to lead those conversations. Think of communication as like a team meeting at your job – when communication flourishes, things get accomplished. The same can be applied to hockey. I see Thornton talking, not sure what he’s saying, but he definitely needs to lead meaningful conversations on the ice and in the locker room.
Lastly, and maybe the most important quality, is the ability to inspire. Again, just like at your job, how hard are you going to work if your boss is not inspiring you? A team captain needs to inspire his teammates, his workforce. I am not sure if anyone has really inspired this team. I don’t know what goes on in the locker room, but on the ice, sometimes inspiration is non-existent. Lackluster performances seem to prevail in the postseason. This is a problem. Did Thornton inspire in his captaincy, especially in the most important time, the playoffs? I don’t think he did, unfortunately, and that might have been the key quality to have.
So what’s Joe’s end-of-season grade on his report card? Maybe a C. 50/50.
Management is trying to send a message and make a statement. Anyone can have the job. (Remember when Patrick Marleau was stripped of his “C” back in 2009?) So, it’s not anything new in the NHL or with the Sharks, it’s just an interesting, symbolic decision that impacts the team. Does management have a plan to the madness, or are they disorganized and barely treading shark-infested waters, putting on a façade and hoping this is the right thing to do?
Now, the highly anticipated training camp, beginning September 19, will be viewed with a watchful eye by not only coaches but fans. All eyes are on everyone, and leaves us wondering who is the best to don the “C”? Logan Couture? Joe Pavelski? Jumbo, again? How about Marleau?
At this point of confusion with what’s happening with my team, I don’t know who is best fit for the opportunity at hand. Just like the Sharks’ coaches though, I will come into the season with a fresh mind and new outlook. As summer comes to a close and the boys hit the ice this week, all we can do is wait in fierce anticipation!