The San Jose Sharks have Joe Pavelski’s leadership to thank for reaching new heights in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs…
After a dismal 2014-15 NHL season that included conflicts between leading players and management plus missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the San Jose Sharks were in desperate need of leadership changes. That upgrade started with hiring new head coach Peter DeBoer and continued with making Joe Pavelski captain.
Those growing pains followed becoming the fifth team in major professional sports history to choke a 3-0 lead in a postseason series. It should be considered the biggest of the five considering it came with the largest scoring differential in both San Jose’s three victories and four defeats.
As a result of continued postseason failure, the first two picks in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft were stripped of the captaincy. However, both were still on the team.
Pavelski has to be the first captain to ever take over a team traversing such a minefield. Yet the team was closely knit and overcame major adversity to get San Jose’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. To his credit, his captaincy has always been inclusive and showed respect of his leadership support.
Meanwhile, Pavelski led the Sharks in overall, power play and game-winning goals. He led forwards in ice time.
Pavelski was on the ice so much because he is versatile enough to play in any situation. In addition to scoring more goals than anyone not named Alex Ovechkin over the last five-plus seasons, he is one of the best defensive forwards in the world. He can play center, either wing or on the point. He could probably tend net considering his shot-blocking prowess.
However, Pavelski is more than a leader with his play. He is the model of professionalism, balancing holding the team accountable with being supportive.
None of this surprises anyone not named Tony Gallagher. (See a Gackle Report podcast with Ross McKeon that includes discussion on the Vancouver “journalist” calling Pavelski a weasel).
Pavelski had already led the Wisconsin Badgers to the 2006 NCAA championship and was always a leader on this team. DeBoer said of his captain during their Stanley Cup finals run last May: “he’s a better person than hockey player.”
It was that kind of character that allowed this team to rebound from where it was. There is no reason to think San Jose cannot continue to build on that success, with only four players older than Pavelski’s 32 years. His leadership will be a cornerstone of whatever is accomplished.