Joe Thornton has never been one to mince words, so if you want an honest peek at the state of the San Jose Sharks, Thornton is your guy.
In this case, the former captain didn’t do it in a revealing, tell all interview with Brodie Brazil. Instead, he ripped the curtain down on the Sharks’ dressing room by simply answering one question from San Jose Mercury News writer David Pollak about some comments made by his general manager:
“I think Doug just needs to shut his mouth,” Thornton said after his team’s morning practice. “I think that’s the bottom line.”
Thornton added: “All I’ve got to say is I’ve been here every day working hard. I haven’t taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth.”
In a session with about 350 season-ticket holder the previous night, Wilson offered a more detailed account of why Thornton lost the ‘C’ on his jersey than in the past.
The Sharks have gone with four alternate captains this season with Thornton a part of that leadership group.The general manager prefaced his remarks with praise for Thornton and his love for hockey.”He cares about the game so much. The reason we took the ‘C’ off him . . . He carries the weight of the team on his shoulders and he’s got such a big heart that when stress comes on him he lashes out at people,” Wilson said, “and it kind of impacts them.
“The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe,” the general manager continued. “And I sat him down and said we need other players to step up and share this. Leadership group in this league is a shared thing, it’s not one guy. This says a lot about Joe. He got it. He didn’t like it, but he got it and he understood.”
“He needs to just stop lying, shut his mouth.”
Strong words from one of the most recognizable and prolific players in Sharks history.
It should be clear that relationships within the organization are souring. This outburst from Thornton — always an honest but hopeful quote in postgame situations — is surprising. His tactlessness belies the usual tenor of an NHL dressing room pushing to earn a ticket to the postseason: “Just have to keep working. We know what we need to do. Get shots on net and stay responsible defensively.”
Instead, it signifies the first visible symptoms of a disease that has been growing around the organization for some time.
Wilson foreshadowed some troubles for this year’s Sharks when he referred to them as “a tomorrow team” during the offseason. That should make their recent struggle to climb out of 10th in the Western Conference an expected development, but this public spat between player and front office indicates much deeper flaws for a team that has fallen short one too many times to continue rebounding.
For nearly a decade, the names Thornton and Marleau have been synonymous with Sharks hockey, and given that Sharks hockey has been synonymous with “just good enough to blow it,” Thornton has long carried the cross of the team’s failure.
Getting rid of San Jose’s two biggest stars has been the easiest conclusion to draw for several seasons now. It’s a lazy narrative for journalists and talking heads, because no one can really explain why so many talented Sharks teams have failed to make the leap into championship lore. Still, it might be time to find a way to cut ties for an entirely different reason.
Wilson’s attempt to fuse young, up-and-coming talent with the usual suspects has the 2014-15 Sharks in a hockey purgatory of sorts. Hoping to stay competitive has left them caught between a true rebuild and a true shot at contention — a mixture that prevents this team from accomplishing either. Adding bad blood to the mix will only prove detrimental to this team moving forward. A fresh start — a true rebuild — may be the only move at this point.
It’s clear that this organization is far too loyal for its own good. Its loyalty to Wilson, Todd McLellan, Thornton and Marleau landed them in their current position. But back-to-back-to-back-to-back seasons of soul-crushing failure may have finally seeped into the foundation of this team and rotted it. Thornton’s comments are a shot across the bow of his own ship. The disease isn’t going away, and if you thought this last year has been bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.