Amid all the confusing talk of the San Jose Sharks "rebuilding" or potentially stripping Joe Thornton of his captaincy, one thing is clear: the relationship between the Sharks and Thornton has been frayed in the six weeks since San Jose's season was ended by the Los Angeles Kings.
It's not just that the Sharks fell short in the Stanley Cup playoffs, again. It's that they did so in stunning fashion, by blowing a 3-0 series lead before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in seven games. This Sharks core has consistently been among the league's elite in the regular season, but they've never advanced beyond the Western Conference final.
All of that apparently has Sharks management considering something drastic this offseason, something to shake up the room and turn the team over to younger stars like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It certainly seems unlikely that the myriad of rumors that have surrounded the Sharks' past two captains Patrick Marleau and Thornton this month are just coincidental.
Is there method to San Jose's madness? Sportsnet's new insider Elliotte Friedman seems to think so. "I think they're trying to get Joe Thornton to go," Friedman said on The Scott Rintoul show on Thursday night, "I really do."
See the thing I think really happened there is that Joe Thornton is, like, he's such a dominant personality. He's an alpha male. He's a guy who likes to talk, and likes to ride people... But I think if you really want to (give) the room to Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, y'know, it's tough to do that with him there.
I think if they told Thornton, "you're not the alpha male on this team anymore" I think he would try to do it. I think he really wants to be there and really wants to win there. I'm just not convinced that the organization believes that it can be done with him still there.
Added Friedman on the transferring of leadership question: "I think (San Jose would) be worried that some of the players wouldn't be comfortable enough taking bigger leadership roles with Thornton around, or might be a bit nervous about him - rightly or wrongly. I think that's why the team wants to try and move him."
Certainly Friedman's thinking appears to be buttressed by the public record. Just this week Sharks general manager Doug Wilson described San Jose as a "tomorrow team," and appeared to take an indirect shot at Thornton by saying "I don’t want to put a name on you, but you’re a guy that hasn’t won, had a long career, you want to go win. You might say, ‘this doesn’t fit for me.’"
The fly in the ointment here, of course, is Thornton's three-year contract that includes a full no-movement clause. Also the fact that the ink was basically still drying on the contract as San Jose began to shift into a "future team" posture.
"The guy just took under market value to sign for three years and I think that's the thing that bothers him the most," Friedman said on Thursday. "He took that deal and now they want to trade him. He's like, well why wouldn't you just let me go and become a free agent? I think there's a little bit of bitterness between him and the organization for that."
It would be understandable if there was.