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Sharks and Wilson Can’t Have it Both Ways

Things are heating up in San Jose.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson met with around 350 season ticket holders last night for a Q & A session, and it didn’t take long for Joe Thornton’s name to come up. Kudos to the front office exec for putting himself out there to the public, but when given the chance to address stripping “Jumbo” of the captaincy, he whiffed badly.

Wilson’s comments, according to David Pollak of The San Jose Mercury News:

He cares about the game so much. The reason we took the ‘C’ off him … Joe 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 and it kind of impacts them. The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe.

You’re up Joe. What do you have to say about those remarks)?

Doug needs to shut his mouth.

In most instances of NHL drama, it would’ve stopped there. Player and management would have spoken, but this is the Sharks we’re talking about here. When given the chance to respond, Wilson told CSN California that…

If he’s got an issue, he knows exactly where I am, and I’ll be glad to talk to him about it.

If Wilson’s goal was to be a distraction to his team as they make a late run at the playoffs, he succeeded admirably. He defended his initial comments to CSN Cali, adding that he was simply doing his job by honestly answering a season ticket holder’s question, but there’s no way Wilson didn’t see this backlash coming.

San Jose has been a tense place since Wilson said last summer that he was going to rebuild the team. He telegraphed trades that would involve stars like Thornton, but those moves never materialized. That’s not the issue at hand with the Sharks though.

Culture is a tricky thing to judge, especially when you’re on the outside looking in. Throwing your player under the bus like this probably isn’t great for morale, especially when the actions in question were months old. All Wilson had to do was dodge the question a bit, saying something like “that’s in the past now and we’re in the middle of a playoff charge. I don’t want to rehash that, but thanks for your question.”

That isn’t the way it went though, and now Wilson’s hypocrisy is on full display. Yes, hypocrisy.

Did he make comments in public that he probably shouldn’t have? Sure, but a hypocrite? Perhaps that seems a bit harsh, but it’s not.

It was in 2009 that Wilson last stripped his captain of the C. At that juncture it was Patrick Marleau that was used as a whipping boy as the Sharks went looking for a more vocal and active leader. In the summer of ’09 the team was trying to rebound from a first-round upset loss to the Anaheim Ducks. It’s become a common narrative since then, but the organization was clearly looking for a more passionate leader that could get the team over the proverbial postseason hump.

The criticism of Marleau has always been that he doesn’t look like he cares. His demeanor makes him appear dispassionate, and that made it easy for the media to pile on as the playoff failures piled up.

Thornton was eventually named captain, and he wore the C up until this summer, when Wilson decided that he needed a different sort of locker room general. One that was less abrasive and upfront with his teammates, apparently.

See how it doesn’t exactly add up now? If Marleau lost the captaincy because he was wasn’t upfront enough and Thornton was stripped of the letter because he was too upfront, what does Wilson want exactly? He’s now estranged the most effective and talented player in Sharks history and has an issue on his hands that didn’t exist two days ago.

If the playoffs started today, San Jose wouldn’t make the cut. They’ve struggled all year long to string together wins, and up until recently the postseason looked unlikely. The odds of them making an appearance is still less than 17%, with the team they are chasing in the Pacific (Calgary Flames) sitting at 51.2%.

This would have been a mishandling by Wilson if he had said these things back in October. Taking a dig at your team’s best player in the middle of March as they try to defy the odds by making the postseason is just ridiculous.

How can the players in San Jose’s locker room know what their boss wants when he himself doesn’t even seem to have an idea? He spoke to the season ticket holders yesterday about having a crystal clear plan, but what kind of message does this send the younger players on the team? If you’re Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels or Tomas Hertl you’ve got to be looking over your shoulder a bit. They can now look around the locker room and see not one, but two veterans that have been burned in this fashion.

They wouldn’t admit it and maybe they aren’t those kinds of people. Wilson’s history here is a bit more than shaky though. People are allowed to evolve over time and develop new preferences. At least one person reading this used to love Limp Bizkit and now they love Mozart. It’s part of being a human being, but when your waffling affects others (especially in public) then it changes things.

Wilson’s comments have and will continue to paint the way outsiders see Thornton. This is a first ballot Hall of Famer and a player that loves playing hockey in San Jose. He’s taken his fair share of heat for not being able to win the Stanley Cup with the Sharks, but have his teams been particularly deep?

That’s on Wilson. Not Thornton.

If you’re working on becoming a sports psychologist, there’s a dissertation basically writing itself in California this summer. A GM that has no idea what kind of team he wants to put together or what kind of leader he wants, and the players that are trying to shift and maneuver under that aimlessness.

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