SAN JOSE -- At the conclusion of last season’s playoff run, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said shortly after the Game 7 loss to the Kings that the message from the coaching staff stopped getting through to the players.
While he didn’t shy away from taking the blame for that, it also brought into focus the team’s leadership hierarchy, as a head coach often relies on a designated group to ensure that the guys on the bench are pulling in the same direction as those who stand behind it. According to McLellan, that didn’t happen in four straight losses to the Kings.
Now that the 2014-15 team’s captaincy situation has been revealed, with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic acting as rotating alternates, the coach was asked what gives him the confidence that the sort of communication breakdown that happened last April won’t happen again.
He admitted there’s still some uncertainty.
“I don’t know. It’s blind faith right now, to tell you the truth. I’d be lying if I said it any other way,” McLellan said.
“I do like where the group is at. I do like the fact that they have unified and stood strong. I do like that there’s a number of different players knocking on my door and wanting to discuss things. … We’ve fired one bullet, and things went well for us.”
McLellan is referring, of course, to the 4-0 win against the Kings in Wednesday’s season opener.
[RECAP: Sharks crash Kings' banner party]
The real test will come when things aren’t so sunny.
“When we really get into a rainstorm, we’ll see what our team is made of and who steps up and how we handle it,” he said. “It may take some time to get out of it, but it’s not always about the wins and losses, it’s how we handle things day in and day out.”
“Our actions will speak a lot louder than pieces of felt.”
Considering Thornton and Marleau are once again wearing letters after they were briefly stripped of that honor in August, there’s a perception that not a whole lot has changed. Pavelski and Vlasic have now joined the group, which is new, and so is the team not having a single designated captain, but the two veterans that were seemingly put in the crosshairs by management this summer are back to having positions of authority in the dressing room.
That’s not just how the coaches want it, but McLellan made it clear that the decision on who was ultimately chosen was done in conjunction with those players’ teammates.
In other words, the other players in the dressing room still value what Thornton and Marleau bring off of the ice as well as on it.
“The four individuals that have been named, that [process] took place with a lot of discussion with players collectively and individually. And, it took place with the coaching staff making decisions, as well. It just didn’t happen [Wednesday],” McLellan said.
“The players that are wearing letters at this point have accepted that responsibility. There’s a lot on their shoulders, there’s a lot that they have to come through with, but the rest of the group also has to step up.”
McLellan took issue with the suggestion that everything is basically the same as it was at the end of last season. The desired effect of wanting every player to have a voice in the room has been accomplished in his mind, at least for now.
Again, though, it’s early. By no means is the coach about to declare that everything will be rainbows and roses for the next 81 games and beyond.
“We’re very much in the infancy stage of this year’s club," he said. "We felt that it was really important that everybody in the locker room felt like they had a role to play in leadership, and they had a voice. That’s what we tried to accomplish.
"Have we got there? I believe we have, to this point. But, nothing is permanent unless it’s going the right direction.”