“The rebuild is committed to. The players that fit for now and the future, their growth is going to be the primary thing. … Remember where we’re trying to get to. It’s not about here, it’s about there.” – Sharks GM Doug Wilson, June 2014
“We’re a tomorrow team … This is a phase that this organization has never gone into in the past, and maybe should have many years ago.” – Doug Wilson, June 2014
This might sound super crazy, but there are actually people who read the above quotes from San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson and gleaned that his team would explode its veteran core, hand the keys to the next generation of leaders and attempt to “rebuild” into a group that doesn’t pathetically surrender a 3-game lead to the Los Angeles Kings.
But apparently they have it all wrong, according to master linguist and Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
“The term or the word used like that can be confusing at times. I think a lot of people, especially in the media, immediately went to, 'Well, they're going to trade Thornton and Marleau.' That's not the case,” McLellan told NHL.com.
“We believe that those two are part of the solution, not part of the problem. That got a lot of play media-wise. That's not what we were about. We think we have a very good hockey club and we think we need to tinker with a few things and continue to push forward."
Again, this might sound extraordinarily wacky, but there are actually some people who thought Thornton and Marleau were being singled out by Wilson when he said “I want players who want to play here, not just live here”; but even Wilson’s walked that back, subsequently saying that he was speaking about “former players who might be interested in coming back to the Sharks.”
And with that, a man with a shovel and a trash bag walks in back of the bull …
Rather than do the thing the Sharks wanted to do but obviously couldn’t given the non-movement protection in their veteran players’ contracts, San Jose’s management team has rebuilt their stance on the rebuild: The veteran leaders will simply see their leadership capacity diminished in favor of players like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, but will remain in the dressing room and on the ice, which we're sure won't be a distraction at all.
"We want to reset the hierarchy and culture in the organization, and that's really where the term rebuild came from. We feel we have a tremendous talent pool. We feel the players that are with our organization are part of the solution and not the problem now,” said McLellan, whose teams have never played for the Stanley Cup and blew a 3-0 lead against the Kings last season. “As a staff, we talked about the ability to push and win as much as we can while we get younger, while we adjust the roles a little bit and give some of the younger players more responsibility.”
McLellan came from the Detroit Red Wings, who are the model franchise for rebuilding on the fly. Of course, their leadership structure during those years included Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and was buoyed by multiple Stanley Cup championships.
But let’s say the Sharks are actually trying to push the kids forward and drop the veterans back. Will that include the oft-mentioned removal of Joe Thornton’s captaincy, creating a team with “three As” rather than a captain and two alternates?
“If there was a new rule that came into the League and there weren't any 'C's and 'A's, would there be a leadership group that took care of the team and would the followers step in and contribute when they needed to contribute? I believe so. So, with that in mind we'll see what we do as move forward,” McLellan told NHL.com.
Look, it’s pretty easy to see how this went down: Wilson was embarrassed by his team’s effort, starting shouting about a rebuild shortly thereafter, realized that was either foolhardy or logistically impossible, and then Wilson and McLellan were forced to spin these promised changes into the garbled messages we’re reading today.
Meanwhile, everyone in the West has gotten better while the Sharks’ biggest change is “Hey, everyone, listen to that other Joe now! And pay no attention to the first Joe sitting three stalls over from him!”
McLellan’s right: They have the players. But they’ve failed the chemistry test every time the burners are turned up. Does this leadership “reset,” rather than a team rebuild, address that?