SAN JOSE It might not have occurred to Sharks captain Joe Thornton right away, even though it was painfully obvious to anyone who watched San Joses five-game, first round flameout to the St. Louis Blues in April.
But at some point during his summer vacation time in Canada and abroad in his wifes homeland of Switzerland, Thornton watched some of those Sharks-Blues games again and came to a distinct conclusion.
They were just a better team. Flat out, they were just a better team than us last year, said Thornton, who has returned to San Jose to begin training for a season that is likely to be delayed due to labor issues.
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Thornton couldnt (or, more likely, was unwilling) to put a finger on any specific reasons why the Blues were better, when asked the natural follow-up question of why. But, he doesnt really have to.
General manager Doug Wilson told a media contingent on July 1, during a conference call to announce the signing of Adam Burish, that the Sharks have to re-establish their identity of going after people. That was a follow-up to what Wilson said in late June, prior to the NHL Draft:
One of the bigger issues that we talked about initially was the identity of this hockey team. We got away a little bit from it, said Wilson on June 18. The passive reactive...thats not part of our identity or how we want to play. There were moments where it crept in.
Against St. Louis, the Sharks looked like the decidedly slower team could their lack of aggression, on the penalty kill and elsewhere, be the primary culprit for that? Thornton doesnt disagree with that sentiment.
Yeah, when were aggressive, were tough to beat, said the captain, who turned 33 in July. Weve seen that in past years, and well get back to that. Im sure Todd McLellan wants to get back to being more aggressive.
The Sharks moves this summer, although they didnt pull off anything earth-shattering, are an extension of Wilsons philosophy that the team didnt impose its will on the opposition nearly enough. Defenseman Brad Stuart plays an in-your-face style and immediately improves the Sharks defensive depth, while Burish is known as an agitating motor-mouth that can get under an opponents skin, as well as aid the penalty kill. New associate coach Larry Robinson brings a wealth of experience to the San Jose bench, and he wont be afraid to kick the Sharks in the butt, as a team or individually, when necessary. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is also on board, joining the Sharks from Washington, while Matt Shaw was fired by San Jose.
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Playing against Stuey in Detroit and LA, hes a really strong reliable d-man who plays physical and plays hard minutes, said Thornton of the player that was part of the trade to Boston that brought him to the Bay Area. Who wouldnt want a guy like that on your team? I think thats a huge upgrade for our defense.
Adam Burish should help address the penalty kill issues we had last year. Hes just a scrappy player from playing against him, and is the type of guy you want on your team and is tough to play against.
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What the Sharks didnt do (up to this point, anyway) is break up their core group, despite some speculation that they would try to trade defenseman Dan Boyle or ask Patrick Marleau to waive his no-trade clause. Instead, San Jose is seemingly hoping that players like Brent Burns can have a more effective second season in teal, while young talents like Tommy Wingels, Andrew Desjardins, TJ Galiardi and Justin Braun can all continue to improve and have an impact.
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Thats fine with Thornton.
I think we still have a great team, and I personally still believe in this team a lot, he said.
I still think were one of the best teams in the NHL. It would have been strange seeing some guys go after weve done some pretty good things. Obviously, we havent won a championship, and thats our goal, but with getting Stuey and getting Adam I think were a better team than last year. Hopefully we can show it.