Earlier this week, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson did a ‘curtains back’ insider interview in which he explained some of the team’s decisions from this last summer.
There was a lot of circular dialogue about the trades that never happened and the team rebuild that doesn’t seem to be ever getting off the ground. Then, though, the talk turned to the leadership situation on the ice — namely, the stripping of captain Joe Thornton of his ‘C’ during the off-season.
Wilson more or less threw his former captain and long-time star center under the bus; there’s no two ways around it. He talked about Thornton’s inability to keep his emotions in check when the team doesn’t play well, going as far as to lash out — per Wilson’s accusations, that is — at his teammates when things didn’t go the way he wanted.
Based on those accusations, Joe Thornton was painted out to be not just a bad leader — he was portrayed as a toxic leader, and a toxic locker room presence. There’s a growing narrative around the NHL (and other sports) that the captain is just a placeholder position, but former players and current players alike know better — strong leadership, whether it’s from the guy with the ‘C’ on his jersey or a quieter presence, can make or break a franchise. Mutual team respect is a key factor in teams performing to the best of their abilities, or even exceeding their implied talent ceilings; if the Sharks were truly dealing with a volatile, angry Joe Thornton, that could have easily explained some of their inexplicable collapses.
Understandably, Thornton wasn’t too happy about it.
Not many players have the gall to suggest their general manager ‘keep his mouth shut’, but Thornton is unsurprisingly one of those guys; sure enough, he lashed out at the GM when the story first came out.
Now, the team’s owner is telling them BOTH to shut up.
San Jose Sharks owner Hasso Plattner has confirmed, per Elliotte Friedman, that he spoke with both the former captain and the general manager about their very public airing of the team’s dirty laundry. “What happens with the Sharks stays with the Sharks”, Plattner stated, remaining firm in his decision to stay tight-lipped about what he said to the pair.
It’s ridiculous that it’s even come to this, but there it is; the San Jose Sharks have reached the point where their owner is having to babysit veteran players and front office personnel. This is all very Toronto Maple Leafs — and although there’s no squabbling with the team and the media over it so far, the intra-organization tension may be even worse.
For the Sharks, many are curious as to whether the team truly does have a plan moving forward. Christy over at The Other Half mentioned in her in-depth look at the ice girls controversy this summer that San Jose certainly didn’t shy away from all the off-ice drama surrounding their own ice girl uniforms, something that she suggested could have been an attempt to avoid facing the indecision of the team’s brass when it came to how to improve their on-ice product. The captaincy shuffle was also something that caused alarm bells to go off; when the team then made a couple inconsequential depth moves at the trade deadline (that included no real draft pick acquisitions, and saw Tye McGinn placed on waivers to make room for players with worse career records than him), it became more of a possibility that Wilson is grasping at straws now.
Thornton is trade protected, but there’s no guarantee he won’t want out this off-season. All that’s certain at this point is that the squabbling isn’t impressing anyone — and with the Sharks set to miss the playoffs altogether, few can say the team is poised to get better moving forward.