SAN JOSE – On a day in which major news was possible if not expected, not much came from Sharks Getaway Day 2015, other than the signs of a rift between former captain Joe Thornton and (still) head coach Todd McLellan.
Still, there were some notable notes and quotes from various corners of the dressing room. Here are a few, along with some thoughts of my own…
1 - When the Thornton-Doug Wilson spat became public in March it was evident that the majority of the fan base had Thornton’s back in the days and weeks that followed. Wilson, of course, started that dust-up in the summer with his comments throughout the offseason thought to be directed towards Thornton (and later backed up by Larry Robinson), and the removal of Thornton as team captain. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to Thornton’s sudden and unprovoked criticism, though, of the universally respected McLellan.
Of course, if Thornton and McLellan aren’t on the same page, and Wilson remains in charge, what would Thornton’s reaction be if McLellan were to remain as head coach? If the general manager prefers to trade Thornton, would keeping McLellan around finally convince Thornton to waive his no-trade clause?
Quite the situation.
2 - Wilson, McLellan and several players pointed to the team’s miserable month of February as the main culprit for missing the postseason. The Sharks were just 3-8-2 in February, losing all eight games at home.
“We were really at a good place, and then February happened,” Wilson said. “That's where we have to take a look at the reality side of it. Where did that come from? We don’t have those answers yet. When we go through the review process with everybody in this dressing room, I'll get some insight into that.”
Joe Pavelski said: “It’s performance, it’s accountability. We didn’t have that for that month, I don’t think. We had the bad turnovers, giving the other team the easy goals. That’s why we’re sitting here.”
McLellan also lumped in the Sharks’ home record, in which they won just 19 of 41 games, as one of the team’s major issues.
“Not only February, but our home record. That was one of the biggest and most puzzling things for me. It was counted on for many years. … This group is going to have to re-establish that early and make sure teams know this is a tough place to play. The February part I don’t know, but that’s one of the most puzzling.”
3 - The team’s lack of a captain was an ongoing story this season, ever since it was officially stripped from Thornton in August.
Pavelski, who basically assumed all public captaincy duties but was one of four rotating alternates, was asked if the team might have been better off naming a captain.
“Guys in here did a tremendous job leading. We’re all a part of it,” he said. “We all needed to step up and do a little more. That being said, [is there] someone that we needed to wear the C this year? We’re not in the playoffs right now, so there’s a lot of things that needed to change. I don’t think that was an underlying moment.”
4 - One player that wasn’t among the rotating alternates was Tommy Wingels, but the physical forward admitted that he grew in the leadership area this season. Wingels became one of the go-to players for the local media, and handled it with honesty and class no matter the situation.
That’s only a small part of being a team leader, of course, but Wingels indicated his voice was heard more often behind closed doors, too.
“I think guys allowed me to grow as a player and a person in this locker room and on this team,” he said. “I think it’s a daily thing. You have to continue to do that. You can’t be satisfied with the day before or the season past. It will be a constant improvement to try to be one of those guys who can lead this team where it needs to be.”
5 - Throughout most of the year, the general sentiment regarding the roster was that Thornton was having an outstanding season, while Logan Couture was scuffling a bit.
In the end, Couture finished with 67 points to Thornton’s 65, although Couture did play four more games.
The 26-year-old forward was asked to evaluate his own season.
“I thought it was a good, but not great season for me,” said Couture, who mentioned he would have liked to score more than his 27 goals. “I still think I have a lot more to give. I can improve a lot more. So, I’m going to work as hard as I can this summer, and come back next year hungrier. Missing the playoffs isn’t fun, so I’m going to do everything I can to not miss the playoffs again.”
He also gave a direct opinion on what needs to change, after the Sharks dropped 22 points in the standings from a year ago.
“I’ve never been the type of person who says the coach needs to change. I think that’s a copout most of the time, when you blame a coaching staff or a coach. They don’t go out on the ice and play the game.
“Maybe it’s the players that something needs to happen. Maybe that’s what needs to happen, because we’re the ones that are supposed to go out there and win hockey games. … A lot of guys didn’t have good years. A lot of guys weren’t consistent. That’s why we didn’t win. We didn’t [not] win because Todd and the coaching staff is terrible – we didn’t win because the guys didn’t show up consistently and play well.”
As for the upcoming months, Couture said: “It will be another interesting summer, I’m sure. We wanted to change after last year and come back and have a good year, and we didn’t do that.”
6 - Among players that spent the majority of the year in San Jose, Antti Niemi is one of four pending unrestricted free agents. The prevailing opinion is that the Sharks are going to go a different direction in net, in what is perhaps the biggest question mark (at least player personnel-wise) headed into the offseason.
“We’ll see what happens,” Niemi said, when asked if he’d like to be back. He expects to talk with the team “sooner or later.”
Other pending UFAs are Matt Irwin, John Scott and Scott Hannan. Hannan indicated he would like to continue his career, but hasn’t had any discussions with Wilson about his future in San Jose.
“We’ll see how it goes. … It’s something we’ll decide, I’m sure, in the next few months.”
Wilson chose not to comment on any of his pending UFAs, as player exit meetings have not happened yet.
7 - Wilson was adamant that owner Hasso Plattner is very much involved with the operations of the team, saying that he talks to Plattner “a lot.”
I asked Wilson if there’s anyone else in the organization Platter talks to, other than him.
“He talks to everybody,” Wilson said, without mentioning anyone specific. “When he comes here, it is an open policy that we have, and that's the way it should be. It's very inclusive.”
8 - While Thornton’s veiled jabs at McLellan will make the most headlines, the 35-year-old also gave his thoughts on his first season in San Jose in which the team didn’t make the playoffs.
"Obviously, not good enough,” Thornton said. “It was a tough schedule, and after our toughest part of the schedule we were in second place in our division. I don't know what happened, February, March. It's disappointing that the meat of our heaviest schedule we did great and then our slack part we didn't perform. Who knows what the answer is, but I'm sure everybody's going to try to figure it out."
He added that “not much” has to change in order for the Sharks to become a contending team again.
9 - Tomas Hertl is headed to the World Championships in Prague to play for the home team, the Czech Republic.
Couture will not be going to play for Canada.
“I’m not going to talk about World Championships,” Couture said, when asked if Canada wanted him to be a part of its roster.
Couture, if you recall, was left off of last year’s Olympic team that went on to win gold in Sochi.
10 - Pavelski apparently turned down an invitation for Team USA.
“It’s always a tough thing to turn something like that down, but I think it’s probably the best for me right now,” he said. “We’ll get a little extra rest and start training a little earlier.
“I’ve said it before, but this [season] is just not acceptable. I think everyone feels that. … We’ll have to come back, have a big summer, and guys are going to need to perform.”
We’ll end on that note.