SAN JOSE – In hindsight, the Sharks probably would have been better off naming their captain any day other than the one in which another of their players was issued the second-longest suspension in NHL history.
Still, Monday’s announcement that Joe Pavelski would become the ninth full-time captain in the history of the franchise was met with the same types of feelings that have been palpable since the start of training camp under new coach Pete DeBoer.
Feelings of moving forward. Feelings of forgetting the past 17 messy months. Feelings of focused preparation for the season opener on Wednesday, and the 81 games that will follow.
Pavelski was the obvious choice to carry the torch.
“He’s going to do what he’s done since I’ve been here and probably since he’s been here – go out and lead by example,” said Logan Couture, who will serve as one of Pavelski’s alternates, along with Joe Thornton. “He’s vocal in the room, steps up at big times. Seems like he always scores the big goals for us. He’s going to be the same guy, at least that’s what we expect.”
DeBoer said he made the final decision only recently, after observing the group throughout his first training camp as head coach. He was likely aware that Pavelski was the de facto captain last season, but never hinted which direction he was leaning when pressed on the subject.
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Regardless of any possible preconceived notions, though, Pavelski stood out.
“There are a lot of leadership candidates here, but it’s his time,” DeBoer said. “He’s grown into a leader on this team, and a key player. He has the respect of everybody in the room and everybody I’ve talked to, and I’ve witnessed it first hand.”
“It was a tough decision, but at the same time that doesn’t minimize the fact that Joe is the guy.”
Pavelski called the decision a “huge honor,” and he’s “excited to have an opportunity like this.”
But the 31-year-old quickly pivoted from talking about himself to offering to a team-wide perspective on what has to happen next, in terms of leadership and overall objectives for the group.
“You’re not doing this alone. There are a lot of guys with experience that have been in the role before. They know what to expect,” Pavelski said.
“It’s just about raising our expectations again. We want to get back to the playoffs and get ourselves in a position that we can get some work done there. The guys in this room believe it’s close. Even with the year like we had last year, we believe it’s close. The foundation is there and the players are here to do it. It’s about getting the job done now.”
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While Pavelski was the front-runner for the captaincy, it was much less clear whom DeBoer would select as alternates. He experimented with several in the preseason, including Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau, who no longer have letters after being part of the failed rotating alternates experiment last season. Tommy Wingels, Brent Burns and even Raffi Torres all wore an ‘A’ at one point during the seven-game slate.
He settled on Thornton, who seems to have fully moved on from last season’s uneasiness with coach Todd McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson, and Couture, who will get a letter for the first time.
Thornton was vociferously complimentary of his linemate as the next captain.
“We all think Pav is our leader anyways so really nothing changes, but now it’s official that he’s the captain. It’s great for him and it’s well deserved,” Thornton said.
“I think everything he does, he just does it the right way. He goes out, he plays the right way. He plays hard, puts in the time. I think that’s the main thing. He doesn’t really need to say too much in the locker room. The way he plays just says enough.”
Couture, who was passed over for a letter last season despite being labeled as one of the team’s young leaders, considers serving as an alternate “an honor, especially with the guys we have in this room.”
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He also indicated that last season’s strange structure wasn’t ideal. DeBoer is already on record as calling it a distraction, and Couture agreed.
“It’s a bigger leadership group than just the guys wearing the letter,” Couture said. “There are so many guys on this team that are leaders and step up at different times. It’s nice to have it so it’s not a distraction. … Pav is our captain, and it’s going to be good not to answer that question anymore.”
Now, the talk will turn to hockey. The Sharks won’t be able to put the past behind them until they show some positive results on the ice.
Finally making Pavelski the captain is merely setting the table for what they hope is a successful year to come.
“This is done. Last year is in the rear view mirror,” DeBoer said. “This is our group and this is who our leaders are, and we’re moving forward.”