SAN JOSE, Calif. – A tumultuous off-season that featured a rehash of a historic playoff collapse, talk of rebuilding and questions about the leadership on and off the ice has mercifully come to an end for the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks returned to practice Friday for the opening of training camp, looking to put that playoff loss to Los Angeles in the past and build a new kind of team even if it contains most of the same players.
After becoming just the fourth NHL team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games, the Sharks entered a new phase with general manager Doug Wilson talking about rebuilding and calling the franchise a “tomorrow” team after nearly a decade of being a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
But that doesn’t mean the players have altered their high expectations.
“That’s Doug’s opinion,” forward Joe Thornton said. “I think if you’d ask anybody in here I don’t think they have the same feeling. We’re confident with this group. Just ask these guys, I think we’re pretty confident we can get the job done.”
The Sharks open camp without a captain or alternates as coach Todd McLellan has given everyone a clean slate and at least temporarily taken the “C” and “A” off the jerseys of Thornton and Patrick Marleau, respectively.
While Marleau and Thornton could regain letters, it appears more likely that some of the younger players will take that role or that the responsibility will be rotated this year.
“That was done because a number of individuals spoke at the end of the year,” McLellan said. “And if they had a voice at the end of the year, why didn’t they have it during the year. We’re opening it up. If you’re prepared to speak after, it’s time to speak up during. It’s not an indictment of Joe and Patty though it’s turned into that because of their ‘clean slate’ if you will.”
Marleau had the captaincy taken from him five years ago after the Sharks lost in the first round of the playoffs despite being the top team in the regular season.
He doesn’t see the demotion changing Thornton at all.
“Obviously you don’t like seeing something like that happen,” Marleau said. “It doesn’t change what he brings to the group, it’s just a patch. He’s still going to be a leader. He doesn’t necessarily need that. He’s going to do the same things. I look at him as a leader, so it doesn’t change my point of view of him and it shouldn’t change a lot of people’s point of view.”
The team is seeking a larger leadership group than in the past where much of the responsibility, and blame, often fell on the team’s two highest-profile players.
To help heal any divide in the locker room, the players recently took a group trip to Tahoe, where they could put last season in the past and focus on the upcoming season.
“There’s a lot that happened off the ice, but nobody was talking about why we lost,” defenceman Marc Edouard-Vlasic said. “If you want to win, you got to win on the ice. You can fix everything off the ice, but if you’re not willing to put the effort in on the ice, there’s no point.”
The change in leadership will be one of the biggest this season for the Sharks, whose most notable off-season addition was enforcer John Scott, who has 430 penalty minutes and six points in 236 games.
Defenceman Dan Boyle, forward Marty Havlat and defenceman Brad Stuart all left either through trades or compliance buyouts, but 15 of the 17 players who got the most ice time last season are back this season.