The San Jose Sharks have been one of the leading off-season stories despite doing very little all summer. The Hockey News (THN) was the latest to tackle when this team promising changes will make any and what they might be in a column about whether Joe Thornton would retain the captaincy for the 2014-15 NHL season on Tuesday, Aug. 12.
Thornton remains one of the top-five pictured options (listed in order of probability) for San Jose. Other possibilities are too unlikely to examine in detail.
As written here previously, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the choice that sends the right message to this team about how you play the game. Just 27, "Pickles" is already the most reliable, accountable and apparently indispensable of Sharks if we are to excuse the 2014 Stanley Cup playoff choke on anything.
Only this is not about who should get the "C" on his sweater, it is about who will. The most likely candidate is Logan Couture for several reasons.
For one, general manager Doug Wilson passed up on a tempting trade to push San Jose over the top when the Columbus Blue Jackets insisted on Couture being part of a package for Rick Nash. Once that level of commitment is made to a player, the roots are deep.
Both Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan have also referred to Couture as future captain material. When they talk about handing the team over to new leadership, who would they put ahead of their 25-year old two-way All-Star center?
Couture set the tone by fighting Mike Richards in the sixth game of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He has been the leading off-season voice among Sharks, has had his captain's back but also challenged his teammates to use the pain of that choke as motivation.
It also helps that he may already be San Jose's best three-zone player. Those are all reasons he would be a good choice as captain and is a lock to wear some letter.
Vlasic would fall right behind him for the reasons listed above, and because he is the best defender and above average offensively. Tenure might also count for something, and Pickles has played twice the games for the Sharks that Couture has. He will already be counted on to lead a very young blue line, and is certain to wear at least an "A" in the 2014-15 NHL season.
Wilson and McLellan also keep floating this absurd idea of no one wearing a letter, as in Tuesday's piece on NHL.com. Captains are needed for conferences with referees and the league is likely to mandate someone be chosen. However, it is not at all unlikely that this chatter ends up a preface to a dialogue about why San Jose will rotate captains.
None of those three options are much over five percent more likely than Joe Pavelski becoming captain. He is a two-way player that was fourth among all Sharks in total ice time during the 2013-14 NHL season. Coming off a career year with 41 goals and 38 assists and coming into his peak at 30 years old, he has almost as many games of experience as Vlasic.
Pavelski has also shown a propensity to score big goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with 20 goals and 25 assists in his last 56 postseason games. It seems almost certain San Jose will give some letter to the most versatile player on the roster—one capable of playing the point, pivot or either wing.
THN's subject is a distance behind Pavelski in the likelihood of keeping the captaincy. Thornton is also the only realistic option that is a bad one for the Sharks.
He is certainly not especially to blame for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoff choke, but he did not have a good series. It is also not the first poor postseason for him in the nine times he has been part of San Jose's failure to win more than one game after the second round. His playoff scoring comes at a 25 percent lower rate than his regular-season scoring.
More than that, Thornton was captain of a team that went from domination to dominated in choking a 3-0 Stanley Cup playoff series lead. It is a captain's job to find a way to lead his team to at least one elimination win.
In reality, keeping the "C" on Thornton's sweater indicates the same Sharks. Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart the only players on the ice for more than one game of that collapse that are not returning. Letting only the two playoff skaters with Stanley Cup championships go without even changing the leadership does not constitute even the culture change Wilson and McLellan have backtracked to claiming is what they really meant by a rebuild.