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Can Sharks fix team culture without moving ‘alpha male’ Thornton?

Jun 20, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven Getty Images

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson isn’t shy about saying that he wants to make significant changes after the Los Angeles Kings “reverse swept” his team out of the playoffs. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman takes it one step further, though: they aren’t just listening to offers for Joe Thornton … they want him out.

Friedman said as much on Vancouver’s Team 1040 on Thursday, with the Sharks material kicking in around the 11-minute mark of Hour 3. The Score transcribed the juiciest bits:

See the thing I think really happened there is that Joe Thornton is, like, he’s such a dominant personality. He’s an alpha male. He’s a guy who likes to talk, and likes to ride people… But I think if you really want to (give) the room to Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, y’know, it’s tough to do that with him there.

I think if they told Thornton, “you’re not the alpha male on this team anymore” I think he would try to do it. I think he really wants to be there and really wants to win there. I’m just not convinced that the organization believes that it can be done with him still there.

In a way, it’s odd to see Thornton labeled as an “alpha male” considering the fact that he’s often been depicted as an easy-going guy. (Then again, there was that Tomas Hertl comment …)

While he didn’t come out and officially back up Friedman’s comments, there’s little doubt that Wilson believes there are some chemistry issues at work. captured one of the more eyebrow-raising comments the embattled GM made during an NHL Network interview on Friday:

“It’s partly the people, it’s party the environment, it’s partly how they’re managed and coached. It’s a combination of all those things,” Wilson said. “There’s teams in this league that are very talented teams. But, why do you finish it off [like] the San Antonio Spurs in basketball, and the L.A. Kings? They were a close team and did all those little things for each other. Sometimes the pilot light goes out, sometimes there’s injuries, sometimes people need to look in the mirror and wake up again. That’s usually what you’re looking at. But, it comes back to teammate-to-teammate, saying, ‘you know what? I’ll be there for you.’ And, we didn’t have it.”

Earlier this week, Wilson described the Sharks as a “tomorrow team.” As far as how that might affect Thornton and Marleau, Wilson said ” … it’s very simple – if it doesn’t fit for you guys, let’s sit and discuss it.” You know, it sorta sounds like Wilson is trying to sell the merits of trading for one or both of those veterans while also trying to convince Thornton and/or Marleau to waive their no-movement clauses.

Here is full video of that interview (skip to about the four-minute mark for the good stuff):

Thornton’s brother/agent indicated that he’d be more willing to leave San Jose if the fans turned on him, but what about his teammates and the Sharks front office?

Maybe cooler heads will eventually prevail, but it’s difficult to deny the notion that the Sharks are having a “nervous breakdown” right now. The question is: will Thornton and Marleau still be a part of this team once the smoke clears?

Then again, it might just be a “careful what you wish for” proposition.

  1. sjsharks66 - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:40 PM

    Yes, they can. First start by not signing guys like Burish, Havlat, Moore, Handzus and Galiardi. Also not trading away players like Mcginn for having a few bad games. Also ditching Patty after the Canucks loss a few years ago.

    Also, maybe Wilson should man up and try to steal players. Im not a big Flyer fan but the way they offer sheeted Weber was not only ballsy but smart. Imagine if somehow they landed him? Wilson is afraid to take chances. Instead he stacks the Sharks with players like Burish because “they have experience with winning the cub.”

    • lowenni - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      Agreed. It may be one thing to trade Thornton just to add different pieces to a retooling team, but I don’t think his “alpha male presence” is what the teams problem is.

    • blomfeld - Jun 21, 2014 at 12:28 AM


  2. sjawesome - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    I feel like this is only going to get worse.

    • esracerx46 - Jun 21, 2014 at 12:13 AM

      Gotta agree with you. Doug Wilson really isn’t helping at all. He turned fan speculation into what this is now. If I were Thornton I’d be demanding a trade if that’s how he’s going to be treated. Wilson has placed blame everywhere except himself. He said it could be a lot of things but failed to mention how the team is constructed as a possible reason for playoff failure. He’s driven a wedge between himself and his best player. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure this wedge is barbed.

      He brings in guys like that have won Cups, but players don’t win cups. Teams do. Joe Thornton didn’t lose you the Stanley Cup over and over. Joe Thornton isn’t the reason you lost 4 in a row to the eventual champs. Having a flawed team is why you lost, personnel wise or tactical wise. Don’t blame the players. Blame the team. And the guy who constructs the team.

      The more Wilson opens his mouth the worse its getting. The more he wants him out, the more Joe might ask to be traded. 2 guys that don’t want to be in the room together doesn’t leave for a whole lot of bargaining. Careful Doug, that trapeze act you’re playing is razor thin.

  3. lowenni - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:10 PM

    I think with Thornton there he does become the most dominant presence on the team. That being said, I don’t know if that’s the problem. I think he’s a good locker room guy and having him there hasn’t necessarily detrimental to the team–it’s allowed for guys like Pavelski and Couture to mature with a good veteran presence and take on weaker opposing defensive lines to develop. That being said, at this point in those two’s respective careers, I think the team can move on without Thornton. If they want to retool then that’s one thing but I don’t think Thornton’s presence is his worst quality, I think it’s one of his better ones. I would want Marleau out over Jumbo Joe, I admit I don’t follow the Sharks too closely, but the guy just gives off an attitude of nonchalance to me, while Thornton lit up the league this season with assists.

  4. sjsharks66 - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    Look at what happens everytime the Sharks put someone on a line with Thornton. He’s made Pavelski and Hertl look amazing. Thornton is not the problem.

  5. jhuck92 - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:38 PM

    It would be interesting to see if he could do work in Chicago as their much-needed 2C.

  6. smarshall3789 - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:38 PM

    They should trade him for a young goal scoring winger who can play the right side or a top d man

  7. flyboystransport - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    He is one of the best players in the game. ….i don’t think you trade him unless your blown away with an offer

  8. mpops86 - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    Bring him back to Boston. Krejci, a first round pick, and Spooner? We ain’t don’t yet, Joe

    • Moop - Jun 21, 2014 at 12:30 AM

      What would the point of that be? Diving even further into “win now” and restarting in 5 years?

    • clavette - Jun 21, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      theres no reason for him to ever play in boston. he NEVER showed up in the playoffs when it mattered and thats why they traded him even tho they basically got nothing in return

  9. cantescapekarma - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    Locker room / team chemistry is a funny thing. I seen an amazing Buffalo Sabres team basically slowly fall apart after a couple of the best seasons they’ve ever had, all because we let TWO UFA’s get away – Chris Drury and Danny Briere. After that the team was never the same.
    I wonder if Doug Wilson ever considered that maybe after having such a great regular season and then losing to LA after being up 3 games to 0, maybe that helped the team really bond together and oils have lit a fire under that Sharks team for next season. It is looking like we will never know though. I wouldn’t have been as quick as him to break this team up. Patience can be a great virtue…
    I didn’t watch many Sharks games though so I don’t really know what they should or shouldn’t change. The few games I seen I thought they looked pretty darn good. I thought they’d make a run at the cup for sure.
    Good luck Sharks fans. I sure hope that a “rebuild” doesn’t mean the same thing there as it does here! I’d sure hate to see you guys have to go through what us Buffalo Sabres fans are… lol (hopefully the future will be worth it)

  10. hockeyflow33 - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:57 PM

    So the team re-ups him for 3 more years after almost nine seasons without knowing he’s a problem in the room?

    • ltcompton - Jun 21, 2014 at 2:20 AM

      Thank You, this is the most intelligent comment in the whole thread. This has nothing to do with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and everything to do with Wilson saving his job. Thornton is still the best player on the sharks, the sharks are still a cup contender and the idea that somehow the Sharks are going to be better off by subtracting them at this point is……………..just plain stupid.

      They just re-signed these guys…I’ve lost so much respect fpr Wilson over this, he is the one that needs to go at this point

  11. sharkie29 - Jun 21, 2014 at 3:01 AM

    I think DW knows that the series loss wasn’t just Joe’s and Patty’s fault. He knows that the whole team just completely fell apart after game 3. I think DW is doing this “rebuild” or “retool” because Joe and Patty’s value is slowly decreasing, and it will only decrease as time goes on, considering their age and contract. Their value right now is at a point where you can get something somewhat significant back. It’s now or never to get rid of these two because at some point they have to, and their value is slowly going down.

  12. gohawks7 - Jun 21, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    He’s not a “lead by example” kinda guy. Someone who folds under pressure like he does is not a good example for young players to learn from. Anyway, their problem is playoff toughness, mental strength, and ability to play under pressure. Those things aren’t fixed by just moving Thornton.

  13. terba28 - Jun 21, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    Don’t move him. I think that if you really don’t want him to be the “alpha male”, then just take the C off his jersey. I mean when they took it away from Marleau he had a fantastic season, so maybe with less pressure Jumbo would preform that much better. The only question would be who would take his place?

  14. ltcompton - Jun 21, 2014 at 11:06 PM

    The problem is that neither Logan Couture nor Joe Pavelski has stepped into a leadership role, you do that by being the best player on your team and playing your biggest when the stakes are highest, something neither of those players has been able to do, both of whom disappeared when the team needed them most. It certainly was not their fault alone but when the Sharks needed a huge goal or a critical stop, they didn’t deliver.

    Plus no one has suggested what you could possibly get in return for Thornton and Marleau that would approach their value to the Sharks. If you tell me we can get Jason Spezza and a prospect, or Ryan Kesler and a prospect, then maybe yes, otherwise, no chance.

  15. easez1 - Jun 22, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    The problem is Jumbo Joe is not an ‘alpha male’, never has been and never will be, the Sharks need to recognize this reality as the Bruins did years ago, if they truly want to solve some of the teams issues.

  16. gohawks7 - Jun 23, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    Joe is more like a sheep in wolfs clothing. He’s alpha male on the outside….but creampuff, crap my pants when the pressure is on, on the inside.

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