Joe Thornton, captain of the San Jose Sharks until last summer, is slightly less direct in his approach to criticizing those in charge — but after a decade of squandered playoff appearances and continually increasing speculation about off-ice drama and locker room tension, he’s clearly had enough.
Following San Jose’s press conference on Wednesday — held just hours before the first post-season puck drop would occur in Montreal — the media spoke to an unhappy Thornton regarding his take on the team moving forward.
The 35-year-old centre — drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997 — insisted that last summer didn’t affect him heading into training camp this past fall. Despite the non-stop speculation regarding what the team would do in the off-season in reaction to the club relinquishing a three game lead in the first round of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Thornton was adamant that the devastating playoff miss didn’t carry over into the new season.
When asked if it affected the rest of the team, though, Thornton didn’t bother defending his teammates.
“It shouldn’t have,” Thornton asserted, referencing whether the playoff upset served as a distraction for other players on the Sharks roster heading into October. “If it did, we don’t want them here.
We want tough individuals who can handle adversity. If it did, we don’t want you here.”
He didn’t stop with his teammates, though.
The questioning turned to whether head coach Todd McLellan would stick around or not, and whether there needed to be any changes on the staff. Thornton didn’t bother with diplomacy.
“I have no idea. Todd has to talk to his family… maybe he should talk to this family as well, in here.”
A constant source of scrutiny for just about everything but his quietly impressive on-ice play, ‘Jumbo Joe’ has never been one to hold back in front of a microphone. His bold, borderline abrasive personality are as much a part of him as his flawless two-way play. He’s one of the most consistent skaters on the ice, even today — at only thirty-five, he’s still second in all-time NHL scoring among active players, behind only Jaromir Jagr — but with nearly two decades in the league and no championship to show for it, his every move has been placed under the microscope. Add in clear-as-day tensions between Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson (and now his comments from Wednesday), and his reported leadership abilities have taken a front seat over whether he’s still producing on the ice.
This was San Jose’s first missed playoff berth in a decade. In comparison, veteran captain Shane Doan watched as his team fell to 29th overall; Jarome Iginla only has six post-season appearances with the Calgary Flames to boast among his sixteen regular season campaigns with the franchise.
As a team that looks more and more like a mismanaged powerhouse, though, the Sharks are another club looking for a tangible person to blame — and Thornton has become an easy target. He’s a mainstay with a polarizing personality, practically writing the leadership narrative every time he finishes a season with good personal numbers but underperforming teammates — and although there’s still debate on whether the ‘toxic locker room’ storyline has any credence or not, it’s the easiest explanation to simply point to when a team full of top-ranked prospects and highly-touted talent falls short. After all, neither Thornton nor fellow veteran Patrick Marleau have ever been criticized for poor defensive play or shortchanging the fans in goals and exciting plays, yet the underrated talent filling up the system behind them — from veteran Joe Pavelski and polarizing Logan Couture to emerging skaters like Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller — hasn’t found a way to give the team that final missing edge. Doug Wilson and Evgeni Nabokov were the original scapegoats in a city that couldn’t seem to bring home a cup, but Joe Thornton seems to be the scapegoat who doesn’t mind pointing fingers right back.
No personnel changes were made at the team’s press conference on Wednesday, but something has to change before the off-season ends — because now, even Thornton has made it clear he’s had enough.