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While in San Jose Joe Thornton averaged over a point per game each season until 2011. The same season he became captain.

Stripping Joe Thornton of the “C” is a Good Thing

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Every argument has two sides to it, and in many cases more than two. Given what has transpired in San Jose over the summer it will benefit both the Sharks and Joe Thornton to have a new captain. By no means is this a defense of Doug Wilson or belittling of Thornton but merely another way to view what has occurred in San Jose based on prior history and the success of it. What is this prior history? Well I am glad you asked. Let’s explore the captaincy transitions throughout franchise history.

  • Doug Wilson (1991-1993) – Retired as captain after the 1993 season.
  • Bob Errey (1993-1995) – Traded to Detroit during the 1995 season.
  • Jeff Odgers (1995-1996) – Signed as a Free Agent with Boston after the 1996 season.
  • Todd Gill (1996-1998) – Traded to St. Louis during the 1998 season.
  • Owen Nolan (1998-2003) – Traded to the Toronto during the 2003 season.
  • Patrick Marleau (2003-2009) – Stripped of captaincy after the 2009 season.
  • Rob Blake (2009-2010) – Retired as captain after the 2010 season.
  • Joe Thornton (2010-2014) – Stripped of captaincy after the 2014 season.
  • **Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, and Alyn McCauley all served as temporary captains during the 2004 season.

New Captains and Success

Rarely a player is able to leave a team in a spirited manner whether they have a letter on their chest or not. Only twice has a Sharks captain retired as such and both cases were Norris trophy winning defensemen at the end of their careers, quite fortuitous. The more recent transitions in franchise history have actually benefited the Sharks regardless of how the transition was made. In 2003, the Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. What soon followed was a coaching change, a general manager change and a captaincy change. This led to the most successful playoff run in Sharks history in 2004. Trading Owen Nolan, who at the time was the longest tenured captain in team history, benefited the team as a whole.

In 2009, the San Jose Sharks lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round after winning the President’s trophy for the first time in franchise history. The captaincy was taken from Patrick Marleau and what materialized was a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2010. This was the furthest the team had gone in the playoffs since 2004 and it happened after another captaincy change. On top of that, Marleau had a near career year. The stripping of the captaincy from Patrick Marleau benefited the team as a whole.

Feb 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Marleau posted 83 points in 2010 and a career high 44 goals his first season after being stripped of the captaincy.

Rob Blake retired once the season was over and the captaincy was awarded to Joe Thornton. The Sharks again made it to the Western Conference Final after a captaincy change was made, this time via retirement. This time the Sharks even managed to actually win a game in 2011 compared to 2010 when they were swept. In each scenario that the Sharks have made a captaincy change the team has improved compared to the previous season. Whether is was by trade, retirement or the striping of the captaincy, on each occasion the Sharks made a deeper playoff run once the change was made. Now this obviously cannot be entirely attributed to the changing of captains but it must be noted that the Sharks have not faltered when making these changes.

Burden

The biggest question that you may ask yourself is why? Well, Patrick Marleau provides the perfect example. He had a disastrous year in 2008, posting near career lows in points during the regular season and not performing much better during the playoffs. After the captaincy was taken from him he posted near career highs during both the regular season and during the playoffs. The burden of being captain had been lifted and Marleau was free to be the hockey player he once was. Stripping Marleau of the “C” benefited both the player and the team.

Joe Thornton is in a similar situation. Whereas his statistics have maintained a steady pace both during the regular season and playoffs, the expectations that rest on his shoulders continue to grow every year. Before he was even captain many looked towards Thornton to carry the load in San Jose after his failures in Boston. Now the weight of the captaincy is off his shoulders allowing Thornton to simply be a hockey player again. Stripping Thornton of the “C” should prove to benefit both the player and the team yet again. Who will come out of training camp as the new captain? We can only wait and see.

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Tags: Joe Thornton Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks

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