After the cataclysmic collapse that ended their 2013-2014 campaign, I half expected the mood at the first day of Sharks training camp to be edgy. Bitter. Something akin to the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality the San Francisco Giants were at their media day this past January as they were coming off of a disappointing season.
The first day of Sharks camp however was, well, pleasant. Positive.
Whether the offseason hubbub was weighing on their minds or not, the players and coaches weren’t showing it. It was very clear that the Sharks were ready to get back to business.
“I think our minds take us back to the playoffs, and they should,” head coach Todd McLellan explained after the both practice groups wrapped up the first day of drills. “Although I’d like us to eventually — not forget about it, but move on. (At the start) of camp there is a reflection period when we start thinking about how we finished the season, and the level of play we competed with in the last four games wasn’t where it needed to be. And that’s still there. But the goals of training camp aren’t any different this year than last year.”
Logan Couture — who in my opinion was the most visibly upset after the Game 7 loss to the LA Kings, fighting back tears — had a big smile smeared across his face when he spoke to the media Friday. “I’m happy today, because now it can all be shut off. Now it’s time to start a new season. First day in, and we’ll move forward from here.”
Keep in mind, it’s only the first day of practice. Everyone was on their best behavior. But for the most part, the franchise seemed to be in high spirits.
Despite the overall happy demeanor, however, players were visibly irritated when questioned about rumors that there was a divide in the dressing room.
“I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but last year is over with,” Tommy Wingels insisted after multiple questions about the relationships among his roster mates. “People are going to want to talk about it. But you need to eliminate it from your memory, because it’s over with.”
Talk of unrest among teammates mixed with a captain-less start to training camp have certainly sent us media nerds into a frenzy and led us to speculate as to how much of a divide there is in the locker room. But of course, none of the players wanted to feed those speculations.
“Relationships are fine. There’s no concern,” Wingels emphasized. “For whatever reason, there was talk that there was this huge divide. That’s not the case.”
A reported player-organized trip up to Lake Tahoe over the past weekend was good for getting the team excited to get back to work and focus on winning hockey games. McLellan said he thought the concept of a team trip was “great” and that he was under the impression that it wasn’t the first time that this particular set of players had taken a group vacation like that.
Still, you wonder how much the trip was fueled by general manager Doug Wilson’s very candid offseason talk about the locker room being divided. When asked about it, Joe Thornton shrugged. “You’d have to ask Doug about that … I thought a lot of us got along.”
Speaking of Thornton: The now-former captain maintained a calm demeanor when asked about having the ‘C’ stripped from his sweater, stating blandly that “it doesn’t feel any different … You still have to go out there and work.”
Being the first day of camp, there is no current timetable for selecting a new captain, if one is selected at all this season. When asked about being a potential candidate for the captaincy, Couture quickly shot the idea down. “It’s not even on my mind, until you guys start talking about it. Nobody talks about it in this room.”
“The ‘C’ and ‘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 stated. “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? And we’re opening it up. If you’re prepared to speak after, then it’s time to step up and speak during.”
So what’s next on the docket? Two weekend scrimmages before preseason play starts next Tuesday, all leading up to the Sharks season opener. On the road. In LA. When the Kings will be celebrating their 2013-2014 Stanley Cup championship.
That will be a real test: Was the summer really long enough to get Team Teal past their woes since being ousted by the Kings in Round 1 of last season’s playoffs?
“I think we have to get over it,” Patrick Marleau put bluntly. “It’s a new year. We have a long schedule ahead of us.”
Thornton echoed: “We have to play there anyways, they’re in our division. You’d rather have the first game against them, to be honest with you.”