McLellan: Sharks are ‘better led’ without a captain, which somehow isn’t a knock on Thornton

21 Comments

You try and figure out the Sharks.

On Wednesday, head coach Todd McLellan had an, ahem, interesting take on his club’s leadership-by-committee approach, saying it was in a better position this year than last, when Joe Thornton served as team captain.

“The situation of removing the ‘C’ from certain individuals isn’t an ideal one, but what we’ve got is what we wanted,” McLellan told Sportsnet’s Fan 590. “We have different people stepping up. We have leadership by committee.

“In fact, this year I believe we’re better led than we were last year without having a ‘C’ on. And that’s not an indictment on Joe Thornton by any means.”

Two things:

1) It’s kind of an indictment.

2) Are the Sharks really better led?

If there’s been one constant from the Bay Area this season, it’s the team identity question. Following the captaincy stripping and GM Doug Wilson’s assertion this was a “tomorrow team,” McLellan has repeatedly bemoaned that the Sharks don’t know what they want to be.

“We have the skill, the ability, the tools to be a consistent team, and we haven’t been. That’s the most frustrating thing,” McLellan told NHL.com recently. “We’ve tried a lot of different things. You can talk about it over a period of days, but you can also look within a game and the consistency hasn’t been as strong as it needs to be.

“We can be world beaters for one period, not so good for the next period. We’re all over the map too much, and inconsistent teams don’t win in the end.”

While too much is probably made of captaincy in hockey, the fact remains that teams often take their cues from the leadership group. And even if you don’t subscribe to that theory, it’s hard to argue that having a captain, then stripping him of it, then failing to name a replacement while the ex-captain still serves in a quasi-leadership role…yeah, that could lead to some issues.

In today’s interview with Fan 590, McLellan went down the identity road again.

“Right now we haven’t played well enough to win even 50 percent of our games,” he explained. “There’s nights where we’ve been close and haven’t won, and there’s other nights where we haven’t been close and weren’t happy at all.

“We need to make a decision as a group what we are. I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis, but we need to figure out how hard and how far we want to go to win games.”

It’s probably worth noting that McLellan is asking his team to figure itself out with 23 games remaining in the regular season. We’re not talking about midseason doldrums here — this is an issue that started in October, remains a problem today, and might actually be getting worse. The Sharks have gone 2-4-2 in February while embroiled in a playoff chase, fully aware they’re in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.

So how, exactly, is this team being better led?

The answer: It’s probably not. This is just the latest in a series of mixed messages from the Sharks, which could be the byproduct of a rumored rift between McLellan and Wilson. Generally speaking, when coach and GM aren’t on the same page — as was reported back in January — it tends to come out eventually, often times through the media.

Related: ‘Yes, we’re a playoff team’