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SAN JOSE –- The nameplates in the Sharks’ dressing room on the first day of training camp were familiar ones.
In fact, of the 23 regulars that were on the roster for the Game 7 defeat in the first round playoff series against Los Angeles -– likely the lowest point in franchise history –- 20 of them are back for more.
That’s a bit surprising if you followed the Doug Wilson media tour this offseason, in which he called the Sharks a “tomorrow team” that was entering a rebuild. The biggest change turned out to be a symbolic one, when the club decided to remove Joe Thornton as its captain as Patrick Marleau as an alternate.
A “clean slate” is what Wilson and Todd McLellan are terming the approach.
Inside the dressing room, though, don’t tell anyone that the ultimate goal has changed, including the now former captain.
“That’s Doug’s opinion. If you’d ask anybody in here I don’t think they have the same feeling,” Thornton said. “We’re confident with this group. Just ask these guys, I think we’re pretty confident we can get the job done.”
Thornton is now in the spotlight, and how he adjusts to no longer being the biggest fish in the pond could determine whether this group is able to overcome a rift in the dressing room that contributed to their pratfall against the Kings.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic expects Thornton, second in the NHL in assists last season, to have a bit more incentive after what could only be viewed as a shot to his pride.
“Joe, nothing bothers him. But, he's motivated more than ever to prove (people) wrong,” Vlasic said. “When a C or an A gets taken away from you, I don't know how it feels, but maybe you've got something to prove. Joe's a guy that we believe in, we need him to be his best, and he is and he will be."
Thornton is just one of 23 or so eventual players that will make the team, of course, and while he may have to take a lesser role in the dressing room, others are going to have to fill the void in a positive way.
They didn’t step up last season, and that’s not Thornton's or Marleau's fault.
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“The C and the A situation, you immediately focus on Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, which naturally we will because of them not possessing those Cs and As right now,” McLellan said.
“But, that was done because a number of individuals spoke at the end of the year. And if they had a voice at the end of the year, why didn’t they have it during the year? We’re opening it up. If you’re prepared to speak after [the season], it’s time to speak up during.”
Fortunately, the repair job seems to be off to a good start. The team went on an excursion to Lake Tahoe last weekend, the brainchild of Adam Burish and Jason Demers, as they try to come together as a group for the long grind of an 82-game regular season - including 16 of the first 21 on the road.
“It was one of those things, clear the air a little bit if you have to,” Joe Pavelski said. “It was a fun trip, it was a good trip. I think we learned a lot on that trip about each other, and we had some fun.”
Tommy Wingels said: “I think it was more, 'Are we all on the same page? What do we want to do as a team? How do you want to be remembered as a group?' It's not fun losing. We're all in it to win. We talked about that. We talked about going through everything as a team.
“I don't want to beat a dead horse, but last year is over with. People are going to want to talk about it, we're going to want to think about it, but you need to eliminate it from your memory because it's over with, and our focus is on the start here and getting off to a good start."
There is no timetable to name a new captain. It could be Pavelski, Vlasic, Logan Couture, or someone else. That will be decided in time.
“For us, it’ll be a lot of the interaction in pressure type situations,” McLellan said. “Maybe when it’s not as sunny and it’s raining a little bit, using an analogy. What happens then? We’ll see who steps up. Again, I’d like to see some of those voices that were fairly strong after the season, produce during the season with their teammates.”
There’s a chance it will all come together. There’s also a chance that it will all blow up. That will be determined by the guys that should know one another even better now after what they’ve been through on and off the ice.
“I think we’re a pretty close team,” Couture said. “I think a lot of us have played together for a lot of years. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation what happened this summer, but that’s the way it goes. We’re going to have to build from it.”